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Reasons and Elephants (and Persons)

photograph of elephant at zoo painting

In ordinary language, the term ‘person’ typically refers to an individual human being (and, sometimes, their physical body): signs reading “one person per table” or “$10 per person,” comments about preferences like “I’m not a cat person” or location descriptions such as “I always keep it on my person,” and references to strangers or people with unclear identities like “I spoke to a person in customer support yesterday” are all mundane examples. But technical uses of the term ‘person’ abound: linguists use it to describe the intended audience of a speech-act; Christian theologians have developed the term in complicated directions to buttress the concept of a trinitarian deity; the law (roughly) defines it as something that possesses legal standing to bring complaints to the court, a category which includes individuals, but also corporations, churches, colleges, and other legally-protected entities.

It does not include elephants.

Over the last few years, The Prindle Post has periodically discussed the legal case of Happy, a 51-year old Asian elephant who has lived in the Bronx Zoo since 1977. In 2018, the Nonhuman Rights Project filed a case on Happy’s behalf claiming that she is a legal person who has a fundamental right to liberty which is violated by her solitary confinement in her zoo pen; after several judgments and appeals, the New York Court of Appeals ruled in June that Happy is not a person in the relevant sense and, therefore, cannot request the court system to protect her. Writing for the majority, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore explained that the legal principle of habeas corpus — which prevents someone from being imprisoned indefinitely without criminal charges — is irrelevant to Happy because “Habeas corpus is a procedural vehicle intended to secure the liberty rights of human beings who are unlawfully restrained, not nonhuman animals.”

In short, the court’s decision is squarely and explicitly speciesist: it treats Happy differently than other creatures because of her species.

While the five judges who ruled against her carefully avoided making a claim about whether or not Happy actually has a right to liberty, they instead concluded that the structure of the law simply cannot, in principle, apply to Happy because she is not human. By their own reasoning, Happy might well possess a right to liberty that is being violated by the Bronx Zoo, but New York law is not designed to protect such a right (if, they would say, it exists).

This should seem strange. Normally, people who talk about “rights” tend to treat them as a relatively simple category: if Susan has a right to “not be abused” and Calvin has a right to “not be abused,” then we would typically say that both of them possess the same right to the same thing. If we were to learn that Susan is a hamster, it seems plainly immoral to just suddenly accept that Calvin could abuse her without acting improperly. Presumably, if you think that Calvin should not abuse hamsters (or cats, dogs, red pandas, or whatever your favorite animal happens to be), then you might well think that Calvin has a duty to not abuse them (which also means that they have a right to not be abused). There is no need on this model to differentiate between “the human right to ‘not be abused’” and “the nonhuman right to ‘not be abused’” — but this alleged distinction is roughly the only reason why Happy’s right to liberty was ignored by the court system. According to the judges, habeas corpus is only about “the human right to liberty” alone.

This means that the five judges who ruled against Happy on these procedural grounds were effectively saying that “Happy must lose the case because creatures like her cannot use habeas corpus to win cases.”

But this seems like an example of a rudimentary logical fallacy: petitio principii, better known as begging the question or an argument that is circular. If I try to argue that “abortion is murder” because “all abortions intentionally kill an innocent person,” then I’m assuming (among other things) that a fetus is an innocent person — but this is what my argument was supposed to prove in the first place! For my argument to not be circular, I must first give some reason to think that fetuses are people, at which point I could say that an abortion kills a person (I’ll leave the ‘intentionally’ and ‘innocent’ claims as an exercise to the reader).

In a similar way, the court was asked by Happy’s lawyers to determine whether her rights were violated; for the courts to instead say “Happy’s rights were not violated because she is not human” assumes that “only humans have rights that can be violated” — but this is precisely what the court was asked to consider from the start!

Sadly, it seems like little else can be done for Happy: there is no further recourse available in New York’s court system. But two small silver linings are left on this cloud: firstly, the fact that the courts considered Happy’s case at all is surprising — she is only the third nonhuman animal to be given a legal hearing in this fashion (two chimpanzees named Tommy and Kiko were the first and second in a similarly unsuccessful case in 2018). But, even more encouraging is the fact that Happy’s case was not unanimous: two of the seven judges voted in her favor. According to Judge Rowan D. Wilson, the legal system should

recognize Happy’s right to petition for her liberty not just because she is a wild animal who is not meant to be caged and displayed, but because the rights we confer on others define who we are as a society.

It remains to be seen how long it might take for society to recognize the rights of nonhumans (we’re still struggling to legally recognize many human rights); until we do, we should expect the court system to continue spinning in logical circles.

Monkeypox’s Biggest Threat Might Be to Wild Animals

photograph of two Cape ground squirrels in South Africa

On May 18, a U.S. resident (who had recently traveled to Canada) tested positive for monkeypox, adding the United States to a growing list of countries that have detected cases of a virus normally found primarily in Central and West Africa. Over the following week, suspected cases have arisen in four additional U.S. states, leading President Biden to comment that “it is something that everybody should be concerned about.”

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic (which, to be clear, is “most certainly not over,” according to the head of the World Health Organization), it is understandable that reports of another ominous-sounding virus can be unsettling. But, as numerous outlets have shared, there are considerable reasons to be confident about our collective ability to face the unlikely possibility of a monkeypox outbreak: not only does the disease appear to have a generally low mortality rate (of less than 1%), but we already have an effective vaccine and other means to treat monkeypox patients. Also, transmission of the monkeypox virus (which is of a type that evolves comparatively slowly) is importantly more difficult than the coronavirus, requiring close contact with an infected carrier (for example, the CDC has recently warned that monkeypox rashes could be mistaken for symptoms of more common sexually-transmitted diseases). Altogether, the consensus of medical experts is that, though it is a serious disease that should be monitored, the threat posed by monkeypox is not nearly as significant as that posed by COVID-19: at present, we should not worry about a monkeypox pandemic.

However, this might not hold entirely true for one portion of the American population: nonhuman animals.

While the monkeypox virus is relatively rare in human patients, it is endemic in several African environments among a variety of nonhuman animal species: squirrels, rats, mice, and (unsurprisingly) monkeys have all tested positive for monkeypox at different times (its name, in fact, comes from the laboratory creatures in which it was first detected in the late 1950s). Typically, human monkeypox patients contract the disease from close contact with infected nonhumans, such as through a scratch or bite from an animal or from eating undercooked meat from a carrier. While the natural reservoir — the actual animal population that originally sources the virus — is not presently known, experts believe that multiple species could easily serve as regular carriers, potentially placing monkeypox at risk of becoming endemic in new environments (although, again, this is not to say that the virus would automatically therefore be a greater cause for concern, given the state of medical knowledge about it).

But this means that certain nonhuman animals might face a growing risk, if not from monkeypox itself, then from humans intending to prevent the spread of the disease by sacrificing the lives of nonhumans.

Here, we can indeed draw lessons from recent elements of the fight against COVID-19, such as how slaughterhouses “depopulated” during COVID lockdowns via the mass-killings of their stock (sometimes by simply shutting off ventilation systems to suffocate the animals). In a similar way, when a new variant of COVID-19 was detected among the mink population in Denmark, officials ordered that more than 17 million animals be “culled” (killed) to prevent further spread — a tactic mirrored on a more personal level by health workers in China who were killing the pets of people in quarantine. In a different way, the race to find a COVID-19 vaccine resulted in a shortage of animals used in medical laboratory tests (that require a stock of primates to intentionally infect and treat); this was one of several reasons why human vaccine trials were unusually accelerated. And this all is without considering the effects of contracting COVID-19 itself.

Granted, you might argue that at least some of these measures were necessary to stem the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic; furthermore, you might think that, if forced to choose between killing a deer infected with a disease and watching a human potentially die from that same disease, that we have a moral imperative to prefer members of our own species over other creatures. But what is important to note here is that neither of these points seem to properly apply to the present situation we face with monkeypox. By all accounts, although current case reports are unusually high in many places, it is nowhere near the same level of risk (of either morbidity or mortality rates) as the threat that COVID-19 has posed for the last two years:

if people were to start killing animals to prevent the spread of monkeypox, those killings would be far less clearly justified.

So, while the international medical community continues to track the present spread of monkeypox, the rest of us should each do our part to avoid a panic about the currently-unlikely threat of a monkeypox pandemic. Moreover, even though it is true that rodents and other wild creatures are the most common vectors for spreading the monkeypox virus, we should take care to avoid unduly threatening those innocent populations of creatures.

The Pugly Truth

photograph of bulldog skull evolutionin profile

Last month, the Oslo District Court issued a ruling effectively banning the breeding of British Bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels in Norway. The verdict was the result of a case brought by the Animal Protection Norway (APN), who argued that such practices are in violation of the Norwegian Animal Welfare Act. But why might this be the case? And what does this mean for the morality of owning purebred dogs?

A long history of human-guided breeding has given rise to numerous critical health issues for purebred dogs, and it was these very issues that formed the foundation of the APN’s court case. British Bulldogs, for example, have been bred to develop wide skulls and short snouts – allegedly in order to provide them with a more expressive face, emulating that of a child. As a result, bulldogs have developed severe breathing problems. Bulldogs are therefore unable to properly regulate their temperature through panting and are highly susceptible to heatstroke. In fact, the heads of bulldogs have become so deformed that the breed is mostly incapable of reproducing without human intervention. This is because their enlarged skulls are no longer able to pass through the pelvic canal of the mother, and – for this reason – 95% of bulldogs have to be delivered via Caesarean section. Bulldogs also suffer from an array of other problems with their heart, eyes, skin, and hips – with bulldogs suffering from the highest rate of hip dysplasia of any breed. These health issues are so severe that most airlines now refuse to transport bulldogs and other brachycephalic (shortened head) breeds, for fear that these dogs will not survive a flight.

The overbreeding of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, on the other hand, has resulted in these dogs carrying more harmful genetic variants than any other breed. As a result, these dogs are at serious risk of developing allergies, dislocated knees, hip dysplasia, cataracts, and heart defects – including myxomatous mitral valve disease, a condition that leads to the degeneration of their heart valves.

Our obsession with breeds such as the British Bulldog and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is understandable. Years of intensive overbreeding has resulted in two varieties of dog that are, well, absolutely adorable. And the same goes for many other purebreds. When Men in Black was first released, the character of Frank filled me with a deep and abiding love for pugs. That love endured for many years, and developed into a resolute desire to own a pug of my own – at least, until I began to learn about the genetic tragedy of the breed. Like bulldogs, pugs suffer from a wealth of breathing and thermoregulation issues related to their shortened snouts. Their shallow eye sockets also make them highly susceptible to proptosis – a condition in which the dog’s eyeball is literally left dangling from its socket. Research now suggests that their deformed skulls may also be the cause of the many neurological issues that plague pugs: one third of the breed can’t even walk normally.

Given the horrendous health consequences of pure-breeding, the ruling by the Oslo District Court seems justified. It’s also the reason why – in 2009 – the British Kennel Club (whose aesthetic standards are largely responsible for breeders’ selection of certain traits) issued new regulations for British Bulldogs in an effort to encourage the breeding of healthier dogs. The American Kennel Club, on the other hand, has refused to make any such modifications to their standards.

While modified kennel standards and legal bans are important steps in breeding healthier, happier dogs, they’re not the only ways of effecting meaningful change. What, then, does morality require of us as individuals? Should those who own purebred dogs immediately give up their beloved pets? Clearly not. There’s also no reason to pass over that purebred pup you bonded with at your local shelter. Those animals that have already been bred – though potentially plagued by genetic issues – are deserving of dignity, kindness, and (most importantly) love. Instead, it would seem that our most important moral responsibility is to do all we can to minimize the number of dogs suffering from easily avoidable ailments by stemming the supply of new purebreds. And this is a surprisingly simple task to achieve. In a capitalist system such as ours, supply changes to meet demand. Thus, if we refuse to purchase purebred dogs, breeders will have little reason to continue to produce such varieties.

The only real benefit to be gained from breeds like the British Bulldog, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, or pug is aesthetic enjoyment. But given the enormous harm suffered by dogs belonging to these breeds – and the ready availability of much healthier alternatives for prospective dog owners – this isn’t enough to justify us in continuing to patronize breeders. Morality requires us to focus less on aesthetics, and more on the health – and, ultimately, happiness – of our most loyal companions.

Curfews and the Liberty of Cats

photograph of cat silhoette at night

Starting in April 2022, the city of Knox, Australia, will impose a ‘cat curfew’ requiring pet cats to be kept on their owners’ premises at all times. The curfew has sparked a great deal of controversy, with many cat owners not only arguing that it’s perfectly acceptable to let their cats roam freely, but that it’s morally wrong to force them to remain indoors.

In order to properly analyze this issue, it’s important to understand why the Knox City Council has resorted to such extreme measures. On average, a well-fed free-roaming domestic cat will kill around 75 animals per year. As a result, pet cats are responsible for the deaths of around 200 million native Australian animals annually. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The refusal of negligent cat owners to spay or neuter their pets has led to an explosion of the feral cat population (currently estimated to be somewhere between 2.1 million and 6.3 million) in Australia. A feral cat predates at a much higher rate than a domestic cat, killing around 740 animals per year. Because of this, feral cats are responsible for the deaths of an additional 1.4 billion native Australian animals annually.

Many may look at these numbers and see little to complain about. Animals kill other animals – it’s the circle of life. But it’s not that straight-forward. Despite their enormous importance as companions and family members, the sad truth is that in Australia – as in many countries – cats are a major invasive species. As a result, cats have already been directly responsible for the extinction of 25 species of mammal found only in Australia. This accounts for more than two-thirds of all Australian mammal extinctions over the past 200 years. Cats are currently identified as a further threat to an additional 74 species of mammals, 40 birds, 21 reptiles and four amphibians.

Australia is currently pursuing a number of strategies to control the feral cat population. But this will largely be for naught if the contributions of domestic cats are not also addressed. And this is precisely what Knox’s curfew seeks to do. But is it morally wrong to keep our cats indoors? One way to answer this question is through a simple cost/benefit analysis – what is often referred to as ‘consequentialism’ by philosophers.

So how does a cat curfew stack up on a consequentialist analysis? At bottom, the point of this policy is to (1) reduce the number of native animals being killed by domestic cats, and (2) stem the flow of feral cats resulting from the free-roaming recreational activities of unspayed and unneutered domestic cats. The results of doing this include not only the protection of individual native animals, but the preservation of entire species. And there are further benefits outside conservation. The curfew will also curb other undesirable behaviors like spraying, fighting, and property damage, and limit the spread of a number of parasites that can infect many mammals (including humans) but that are only spread by cats.

A consequentialist argument for the curfew would need to show that these benefits outweigh the costs to those cats that are now forced to stay indoors. Given the above considerations, there are compelling reasons to think that this might be the case. But these reasons can be made even stronger when we realize that the costs to cats are nowhere near as great as we think.

Free-roaming cats are vulnerable to all kinds of risks, including everything from getting hit by a car, to feline leukemia, to wild animal attacks. As a result, the life expectancy of an outdoor cat is only 2-5 years, while indoor cats live for an average of 10-15 years. Given this, we might argue that even if forcing a cat to stay indoors does reduce its quality of life, this may be made up for by the fact that it gets to experience far more of it. But there’s little evidence to even suggest that such a reduction in quality-of-life does occur. While it might be easier for an owner to keep a cat enriched by allowing it outside, experts state that it’s still possible for a cat to be just as happy indoors without all of the associated risks of a free-roaming life. What is required is careful, attentive pet-ownership with a focus on providing indoor enrichment. If this is done, then the benefits of a cat curfew can be achieved at no cost whatsoever to the cats being forced to stay home.

Nevertheless, the consequentialist analysis isn’t the only approach we might take. There are, in fact, a number of scenarios in which it might lead us to unsavory conclusions – like justifying animal testing where doing so would lead to the development of a drug that would save millions of lives. An alternative approach can be found by focusing on the rights of the animals in question, and refusing to violate those rights regardless of what kinds of benefits might be achieved by doing so. What, then, might a rights-based approach make of the cat curfew?

Clearly, the biggest concerns arise around a cat’s right to liberty. Cats should be free to roam, and any restriction on that ability is an infringement of their right to liberty. But let’s unpack that a little bit. Firstly, we need to figure out the content of this right. Put another way, we need to know what a cat requires in order to have this right respected. Clearly it would be wrong to keep a cat in a two-square-foot cage. How much space does it need, then? Is a reasonable-sized apartment sufficient? How about a two-story townhouse? Or must it have access to at least a football-field sized territory to roam? One simple answer might be to say that respecting a cat’s right to liberty involves allowing it to go wherever it wants to. But this seems to overstate the right considerably. When a cat wanders down to the river bank, we are not obliged to fetch a boat and ferry it to the other side so that it might continue to roam unhampered.

Even if we are able to explain the content of a cat’s right to liberty, we must then consider in what circumstances it might be overridden by competing rights. Among the other rights possessed by a cat is, presumably, the right to life. And the cat curfew does a lot to ensure the preservation of this right – extending a cat’s life-expectancy by 2 to 5 times. Seen in this way, the curfew no longer becomes a case of violating a cat’s right to liberty, but balancing that right against the cat’s more fundamental right to life.

Cat curfews, then, appear to be morally acceptable on both a consequentialist approach (saving the lives of native animals and preserving endangered species at no cost to the wellbeing of cats), and a rights-based approach (maximizing respect for a cat’s right to life at a small cost to their right to liberty). As such, it seems that – even in the absence of such laws – we all have strong reasons to rein in the murderous urges of our cuddly companions by keeping our cats indoors.

Under Discussion: Animal Dignity and Cultured Meat

photograph of raw lamb cutlet surrounded by vegetables

This piece is part of an Under Discussion series. To read more about this week’s topic and see more pieces from this series visit Under Discussion: In Vitro Meat.

As cultured or lab-grown meat arrives for the first time on consumers’ plates, the ethical arguments surrounding this product will undoubtedly take on new urgency. Some of these arguments revolve around the supposed environmental benefits of cultured meat, or the fact that it is still produced using materials derived from dead animals. However, there is a more radical argument favored by some ethical vegans that I will assess in this column: namely, the claim that cultured meat harms animal dignity.

There is a live controversy in philosophical circles over whether animals can be said to have dignity, but for the sake of argument I will concede that they do. To say that animals have dignity is to say that in virtue of possessing some property — sentience perhaps, or the capacity for flourishing — animals have intrinsic moral worth and a kind of moral status that demands respect and care. Respect and care require taking animals’ interests into account when deliberating about what to do. Perhaps more controversially, taking their interests into account may require assigning weights to those interests equal to the same interests of human beings. For example, Peter Singer argues that to the extent that the pain of an animal and that of a human are of equal intensity and duration, there are reasons of equal weight to relieve the pain of the animal and the human for those who are able to do so.

The argument against cultured meat from animal dignity begins with the empirical claim that the marketing and consumption of cultured meat will tend to promote, or at least preserve, the idea that animals are edible. But, it is claimed, this idea is inconsistent with the acknowledgement of animal dignity. To see this, consider the ethical implications of the widespread consumption of lab-grown human meat. Although kill-free, we might still object to this practice on the grounds that it would cause people to start viewing people as edible, which — much like viewing human beings as commodities — is contrary to their dignity. Similarly, if we grant that animals have dignity, and that their dignity entitles them to equal consideration, then it is contrary to their dignity to view them as edible. And although lab-grown meat does not require the slaughter of animals on a scale approaching traditionally harvested meat, it is still marketed and consumed as a simulacrum of flesh from slaughtered animals. Thus, it is alleged that the resemblance between cultured meat and flesh from slaughtered animals will help perpetuate the notion that animals are edible.

So, the argument against cultured meat from animal dignity looks like this:

  1. The belief that animals are edible is incompatible with the acknowledgement of their dignity.
  2. The marketing and consumption of cultured meat encourages people to view animals as edible.
  3. Therefore, the marketing and consumption of cultured meat undermines or prevents the acknowledgement of animal dignity.
As David Chauvet points out, this argument seems to trade on an ambiguity in the meaning of “edibility.” The dictionary defines “edible” as “suitable or fit for consumption.” On the one hand, for something to be edible means that it can be eaten; inedible things on this definition include things like rocks, nails, and shards of glass. Call this sense of edibility “physical edibility.” But to say that something is edible can also mean that it is to be eaten, or that it ought or to be eaten. On this definition, inedible things might include certain animals or other human beings. Call this sense of edibility “ethical edibility.”

Now, it seems plausible that cultured meat will perpetuate the idea that animals are physically edible. Everyone will know that cultured meat ultimately comes from animals via their stem cells, and that cultured meat resembles and is a substitute for “real” meat. But if this is the sense of “edibility” at play in the second premise of the argument, then for the argument to be valid, it must be the operative sense of “edibility” in the first premise — that it is contrary to animal dignity to see them as edible. However, this claim just seems false. We know that animals are physically edible, so how could this truth possibly undermine our acknowledgement of their dignity? Again, compare this to the case of lab-grown human meat. If lab-grown human meat merely encouraged the belief that humans are physically edible, it is implausible that this belief — which most adult human beings already share, at least tacitly — would undermine our acknowledgement of human dignity.

So, if the sense of “edible” in the second premise of the argument is physical edibility, then that must be the sense of “edible” operative in its first premise, if the argument is valid. But with this sense, that premise is quite probably false, and the argument as a whole unsound.

On the other hand, if cultured meat encouraged the belief that animals are ethically edible, this would constitute grounds for concern for those who believe in animal dignity, since the belief that animals ought to be eaten or are permissibly eaten is arguably incompatible with equal respect for their interests. By the same token, if lab-grown human meat encouraged the belief that humans are ethically edible, this would arguably undermine human dignity. On this reading of “edible,” then, the first premise of the argument is likely true.

However, it is doubtful whether the consumption and marketing of cultured meat really encourages the belief that animals are ethically edible. Cultured meat is often touted by industry spokespeople and the press as the ethical alternative to traditionally harvested meat. This serves to underscore the ethical divide between cultured meat and the traditional variety. Moreover, this marketing strategy would only be compelling to those who are already disposed to believe that animals are not ethically edible, at least under contemporary factory farming conditions. Thus, the vast majority of cultured meat consumers, particularly in the early adopter phase, will be people who reject the ethical edibility of traditionally harvested meat.

So, if the sense of “edible” in the first premise of the argument is ethical edibility, then that must be the sense of “edible” operative in its second premise, if the argument is valid. But with this sense, that premise is quite probably false, and the argument as a whole unsound.

Finally, as Chauvet points out, even if the argument is sound and cultured meat does prevent the acknowledgement of animal dignity, it does not necessarily follow that we should reject cultured meat. The acknowledgement of animal dignity would require a radical transformation of most people’s attitudes towards animals. Very probably such a transformation can only take place in a series of gradual steps, rather than all at once. If cultured meat can make good on its promised benefits to animals and humans alike, it can still serve as a transitional step even if it does not take us very much closer to recognizing animal dignity.

Under Discussion: Aristotelian Temperance and Cultured Meat

photograph of raw steak arranged on butcher block with cleaver and greenery

This piece is part of an Under Discussion series. To read more about this week’s topic and see more pieces from this series visit Under Discussion: In Vitro Meat.

On the 19th of December, so-called “cultured meat” was listed for the first time on a restaurant menu when the Singaporean eatery 1880 began offering lab-grown chicken from the American company Eat Just. Unlike its standard counterpart, an ingredient like cultured meat (also sometimes called “in vitro” meat) is not harvested from the dead body of an animal raised for slaughter, but is literally grown in a cultured solution much like a petri dish (hence the name “cultured”). While meat-substitutes of various types have become increasingly popular in recent years, this newly-approved product goes one step further: rather than simply aiming to mimic the flavor and texture of meat with plant-based ingredients, cultured meat is biologically (and, by most reports, experientially) identical to “meat” as typically conceived — it is simply not meat grown in the normal way.

For many, cultured meat offers one of the most economical and practical methods for potentially dismantling the ethical scourge that is the industrial factory farming system (responsible as it is for the annual torture and death of billions of chickens, cows, pigs, and more). If cultured meat can be produced economically at a scale sufficient to satisfy popular demands for meat products, then consumers might well be able to stubbornly maintain their meat-eating habits without requiring the suffering and death of so many creatures each year. From a utilitarian perspective, the moral calculation is clear: to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, we seemingly must pull the switch and convert our societal habits from eating meat to eating cultured meat.

But, this leaves open alternative questions about the ethics of eating cultured meat. For example, even if it’s true that cultured meat could offer a viable method for satisfying culinary desires for meat in a way that requires comparably little animal death, that does little to address the problem of having those desires in the first place.

In a recent article, Raja Halwani argues that the Aristotelian virtue of temperance gives us two ways of thinking about how to consider our meat-eating desires: as a matter of desiring the wrong object or as a matter of desiring the right object in the wrong way. As Aristotle himself explains in the Nicomachean Ethics, the temperate person:

“neither enjoys the things that the self-indulgent man enjoys most—but rather dislikes them—nor in general the things that he should not, nor anything of this sort to excess, nor does he feel pain or craving when they are absent, or does so only to a moderate degree, and not more than he should, nor when he should not, and so on” (emphasis added).

While temperance is often considered primarily as a matter of the latter practice — that is, as a restraint on the uncontrolled pursuit of our desires of taste (as exemplified perhaps most infamously in the American Temperance movement) — Aristotle also points out that the temperate person will lack a taste for things that should not be desired.

That is to say, it is one thing to desire something inappropriate while consciously restraining yourself from acting on that desire, while it is quite another to simply not desire the inappropriate thing at all. Imagine, for example, that Moe is a person who (for some reason) desires to murder a series of innocent people in some horrifically gruesome manner. Although he imagines that he would feel great pleasure at committing murder (and, indeed, takes pleasure simply in his imagination of doing so), Moe knows that acting on those murderous desires would be wrong, so he works hard to suppress them and (thankfully) never actually kills anyone. Calvin, in contrast, lacks the desire to murder anyone and, therefore, never commits murder. While it is true that, on one level, Moe and Calvin are the same — neither of them is a murderer — it is also the case that we could say that Calvin is better than Moe in at least some way.

To Aristotle, Moe’s case evidences a kind of continence insofar as Moe has mastered control of his improper desires (because he desires the wrong thing — namely, murder); as Aristotle says, the continent person “knowing that his appetites are bad, refuses on account of his rational principle to follow them.” This means that Moe also demonstrates a lack of what Nicolas Bommarito has described as a kind of “inner virtue” insofar as Moe’s tendency to feel pleasure at even just imaginary murder manifests “morally important cares or concerns” — in this case, they are “morally important” precisely because they are unethical. So, while it is true that we should also recognize Moe’s conscious restraint as proof of separate moral virtues (assuming that his restraint is borne from more than simple self-preservation or a desire to avoid punishment), it is still the case that Moe’s murderous desires are vicious.

What, then, do we make of cultured meat?

Although Halwani does not specifically discuss in vitro meat, he mentions briefly that it “might even be that the temperate person would not desire fake meat processed to look and taste like common forms of meat, such as the Impossible Burger, given that they imitate the kind of meat produced through a cruel history of suffering and death.” Or, like Rossi argued here at the Prindle Post, if cultured meat continues to encourage popular attitudes or perspectives of animals as “edible,” then it might well be serving to perpetuate a less-than-ideal set of desires, even if there are few direct problems with a tasty meal of ethically-produced in vitro meat. Like Halwani points out, temperate individuals might well be morally required to forego various aesthetic pleasures “when they come at the expense of immoral actions,” but the point is that the truly temperate person would not suffer from desires for immoral objects in the first place.

In effect, cultured meat could be promoting a structural sort of continence for our diets that recognizes the moral harms of our current food production methods and so acts to restrain them without doing anything to dissipate the original problematic desires themselves.

Admittedly, I’m taking for granted here that the currently standard system of raising creatures in captivity and subjecting them to immense pain simply for the purpose of consuming their flesh is a moral abomination, regardless of how tasty that flesh might be. If cultured meat offers the most realistic opportunity to prevent widespread nonhuman animal suffering, then that alone is sufficient reason to explore its viability. But the implications of our diet for our character (and what we care about) is also important to consider, even once creaturely suffering is diminished.

In short: cultured meat might indeed do well to prevent future bloodshed, but it cannot, on its own, establish a robustly virtuous culture that lacks the desire for the products of bloodshed.

Elephants Are People Too

close-up photograph of elephant in the wild

37 years ago, the daughter of a Pakistani dictator was gifted a 1-year-old Asian Elephant calf named Kaavan. Kaavan ended up in Marghazar Zoo, a run-down facility in Islamabad. He had one elephant companion; a female named Saheli. When Saheli died in 2012, Kavaan spent days in his enclosure with her dead body before she was finally removed. Elephants are known to experience grief in response to the death of their companions. Since then, Kaavan has spent all of his time apart from other elephants, earning him the nickname “the loneliest elephant.” He has spent much of his existence in chains. With the help of animal rescue organization Four Paws International and Free the Wild, the animal welfare organization started by pop legend Cher, Kaavan has been freed from the zoo at which he was held captive and is now in an elephant sanctuary.

Kaavan was granted freedom from Marghazar Zoo as a result of a decision made by a high court in Pakistan. Chief Justice Athar Minallah began his opinion with a reflection about COVID-19. He notes that for the first time in memorable human history, human beings are confined to small spaces, restricted from interacting with friends and family, and limited in their range of autonomous choices. He argues that perhaps our own confinement provides us with an ideal opportunity to reflect on the ways in which we treat non-human animals, creatures who also enjoy social relationships, space to move freely, and a range of options when it comes to how, where, and with whom they will spend their time. In his ruling, Chief Justice Minallah poses the following question,

“Has nature forced the human race to go into ‘captivity’ so as make it realize its dependence for survival on other beings possessed with a similar gift, i.e., life? Is it an opportunity for humans to introspect and relate to the pain and distress suffered by other living beings, animal species, when they are subjugated and kept in captivity and denied the conditions and habitats created for their survival by the Creator, merely for momentary entertainment?”

Elephants are complex creatures who live rich social lives. They are highly intelligent and have excellent capacities for memory. Like all social beings, elephants thrive when they are in one another’s company. They flourish when they are able to do the things that elephants do when left unmolested. Humans have long benefitted from treating non-human animals as things, as instruments for human pleasure. We eat them, we conduct research on them, we hunt them for fun, and we force them to entertain us even when doing so is contrary to their own interests. Justice Minallah suggests that now is a moment, long overdue, at which we can start to view non-human animals with empathy and compassion, especially in cases in which their cognitive architecture is so similar to our own.

The court’s ruling on Kaavan’s case provided the conditions under which he was freed, but the question remained: to where and how does one transport a 5-ton pachyderm? Stunningly, the answer turned out to be: 4,000 miles away, to Kulen Prom Tep Wildlife Sanctuary in Cambodia — by plane. The Sanctuary is over 30,000 acres — space that Kaavan will get to explore with many other elephants.

Meanwhile, at the Bronx Zoo in the United States, a 49-year-old Asian Elephant named Happy is confined under similar conditions. Happy has been at the Bronx Zoo for 42 years. For the last decade, he has been held apart from other elephants in a one-acre enclosure. The Zoo insists that Happy is treated humanely. The Non-Human Rights Project, an animal advocacy group led by attorney Steven Wise that is dedicated to securing legal rights for non-human animals, disagrees. In recent years, the NhRP has also secured habeas corpus hearings for Hercules and Leo, the first non-human animals to be granted such a hearing. Though the judge in that case did not grant that the chimpanzees were legal persons, he affirmed the basic moral idea behind the movement. Judge Fahey wrote,

“The issue whether a nonhuman animal has a fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus is profound and far-reaching. It speaks to our relationship with all the life around us. Ultimately, we will not be able to ignore it. While it may be arguable that a chimpanzee is not a “person,” there is no doubt that it is not merely a thing.”

The NhRP has argued that Happy is being unlawfully imprisoned at the zoo. The central issue at play in the case for freeing Happy is whether he is a person with rights to habeas corpus protection. A person has a right to bodily autonomy which carries with it a right not to be unfairly imprisoned or held against their will. So, for example, if a person has been detained or imprisoned and they believe that they have been put in that position unlawfully, they have a right to file a habeas corpus brief with the court in an attempt to be released from confinement. The argument is that, like people, non-human animals, or, at least, some non-human animals, have the same right to bodily autonomy and the same entitlement to protection against unlawful imprisonment as human beings do.

A common objection and, indeed, one of the objections that was raised by one of the justices at the most recent hearing on Happy’s case in front of the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Judicial Department is that if we grant that elephants and chimpanzees are legal persons, we’ll have to recognize that they have the other rights of persons — the right to vote, the right to bear arms, etc. This strikes many as both absurd and dangerous. In response to this concern Wise points out that there are many entities to which the courts have granted limited personhood status, including corporations. When the NhRP insists that Happy is a person in the limited sense that he has the right to bodily autonomy and should not be imprisoned unlawfully, they are not also insisting that elephants have the right to free speech or to the free exercise of religion, or any other such absurdities.

Another concern that was raised by more than one of the justices in Happy’s most recent hearing is that the question of elephant personhood shouldn’t be an issue for the courts to decide. The appropriate body to make that decision is the legislature. If that body wants to declare by statute that certain animals should be treated as persons, they are free to do so, but barring that, such dramatic action that has consequences that are so wide in scope would be judicial overreach. In response, Wise points out that a writ of habeas corpus is a measure of common law. The common law is established by judicial decisions and precedent rather than by statute. As such, the courts don’t need to, and indeed shouldn’t, keep Happy imprisoned until such time as Congress decides to pass legislation protecting these animals, which it is unlikely ever to do. For good reason, habeas corpus writs provide courts with the ability to quickly remove persons from unlawful detainment. Wise argues that they should take the opportunity to do so in Happy’s case.

These legal questions are intimately connected to critical moral questions. Do non-human animals have rights? The concerns posed by the court suggest a way of answering this question that is supported by various social contract theories. According to a basic version of this kind of theory, fully free humans come together to form a society with the understanding that it will be in everyone’s self-interest to give up some of their liberties in exchange for certain protections. The social structure of society is granted legitimacy by the fact that the rational people involved in the decision-making consented to it. The trouble is, not all sentient beings participated in constructing the contract. Non-human animals are entitled to rights and protections only if the decision-makers have agreed to such protections. According to this view, in our modern time, elephants and chimpanzees only have rights if legislatures pass statues granting them those rights.

One shortcoming of social contract theories is that they have no mechanism for ensuring protection of the vulnerable. If decision-makers don’t want to provide protections, at-risk populations are out of luck. This means that elephants and chimpanzees might remain unprotected, and it also might mean that oppressed groups like women and minorities who weren’t permitted to be involved in the original decision-making aren’t guaranteed protections either.

An alternative approach, and an approach consistent with the strategy of the Non-Human Rights project, is to insist that all sentient beings have ownership over their own bodies and, to the extent that they can exercise autonomy without harming others, should be allowed to do so. This approach respects the inherent dignity of all life. It recognizes that Happy should be released from captivity, not because it is the will of the people, but because Happy is not the kind of entity that ever should have been “kept”; Happy is a “who,” not an “it.”

Moral Problems with Mink Production

photograph of mink fur

In a strange twist during a year that has seen more than its fair share of strange twists, a potential new threat in the fight against the coronavirus has emerged, this time in the form of a mutation in the virus found in minks. It has always been known that animals like mink are susceptible to some of the same kinds of respiratory diseases that affect humans, and that viruses can mutate when passed between different kinds of animals (it is speculated, after all, that the origin of coronavirus in humans originally came from bats). While there is reason to be optimistic that the mutation will not be too much of a problem for the development of a vaccine, the threat of a mutated version of the virus widely spreading to humans seems like the absolute last thing we need right now.

The mutated version of the virus was first discovered in Denmark, although a number of other major mink-producing countries (including Poland, France, Ireland, and the Netherlands) have reported the presence of COVID-19 in their minks, as well. As an early response, the Danish government imposed lockdowns in the relevant parts of the country, and attempted to force mink farmers to cull the country’s nearly 17 million minks that are farmed for their fur. This move has received considerable backlash: political opposition has challenged that the government has no legal right to force farmers to cull their mink herds, and the Danish agriculture minister stepped down as a result. Other governments are in the process of deciding which measures to take, although no clear plans of action have yet to emerge.

One aspect of this story that may have caught you off guard is the astonishing number of minks that could potentially need to be destroyed: in Denmark alone there are almost three minks for every human. While this number was never explicitly a secret, it wasn’t exactly well-known either, and after having been made public it has raised more than a few eyebrows of those concerned with animal welfare. While arguments against the raising of animals for their fur are not new, it is perhaps worth revisiting the topic in the face of this potential mass culling.

Typically in arguments like these one considers pros and cons, weighing reasons that have been provided in favor and those that oppose, and seeing which view is better supported by evidence and argument. When it comes to the question of whether minks should be farmed on a mass scale for fur production, however, the balance of moral reasons points pretty clearly against the practice.

Let’s consider some of the reasons against. In a recent letter to Science, three scientists from some of the largest mink-producing countries outline some key reasons why mink production should stop: in addition to the potential to transmit diseases harmful to humans, the conditions for raising mink are typically inhumane, with “minks showing signs of fearfulness, self-mutilation, infanticide, and breeding difficulties.” On top of all that, there is the environmental impact the comes along with any mass animal farming operation: the letter cites that “the climate footprint of producing 1 kg of mink fur is 5 times as high as the footprint of producing 1 kg of wool.”

So here are some arguments against: potential to harm humans with mutated viruses, cruelty to the animals, and damage to the environment. Are there reasons in favor?  Economic reasons come to mind: there is a demand for mink pelts, and so we might think that farmers should be able to supply them. Indeed, culling a country’s entire population of minks would have significant economic effects: the world’s largest fur auction house, Kopenhagen Fur, is reporting to be shutting down in the wake of the Danish government’s culling order, with the potential for an additional 3,000 jobs being lost in the case of a collapse of the mink industry. Certainly, then, the livelihood of mink farmers is at least one factor to be concerned with.

How one weighs these reasons will depend on how much one thinks that minks are animals worthy of moral consideration. If, for instance, one is concerned that mass fur farming is cruel to animals that ought not be treated cruelly, then even though putting an end to mink farming would harm those who make it their livelihood, this might seem like a minor concern when thinking about the overall benefits of ending an inhumane industry. This is not to say that the concerns of mink farmers should be completely ignored – the Danish government, for example, is currently considering a financial rescue package for mink farmers – but rather that, all things considered, the benefits of ending the practice seem to outweigh the harms.

There is, however, another moral problem in the vicinity: given that we currently are not sure how harmful the mutated version of the virus is, should we, in fact, kill millions of minks as a precaution? Recall that one of the reasons against farming minks in the first place was that it is inhumane: presumably, it is wrong to cause animals unnecessary suffering, and there is ample evidence that mass farming practices cause such suffering. However, if we think that these animals have some moral value, then that is also a factor to take into consideration when deciding whether they should be culled.

In trying to figure out what the best course of action in this case is there are clearly scientific questions that need to be addressed. As we saw above, it’s not clear whether the mutated version of the virus is dangerous, or whether it would interfere with the production of an effective vaccine, and so it is not clear whether at this point there is enough evidence to warrant a mass culling of minks. However, one might think that it is best to err towards caution: given the damage that the coronavirus has already caused, it might be best not to take any chances of it getting even further out of control. On the other hand, it is known that viruses mutating is common, and so even if all the minks are destroyed then that’s far from a guarantee that there will be no further mutations in the future. The mere threat of mutation, then, may not be a good reason to kill millions of animals.

At the same time, some animal rights groups have stated that the mass culling of the existing minks that are farmed for their fur would be the best course of action if it would put an end to the farming of minks in the future. For instance, Humane Society International stated that while there “was never going to be a happy ending for the 60 million mink exploited for fur annually” that “stopping breeding them altogether would be the best way to prevent animals suffering in the future for the fickle whims of fashion.” Culling minks could not only prevent future harm to humans, but also potentially put an end to an industry that would otherwise cause much more harm to animals in the future.

This is not an easy moral problem to solve. Regardless of what decision is ultimately made, though, this development in the ongoing coronavirus saga has at least shed light on a moral issue that is worthy of additional consideration.

Pet Ownership and the Ethical Perils of Domination

photograph of dog in cramped cage

For many of us, our pets are our beloved family members. However, the lives of many pets are an excruciating ordeal, full of pain and boredom. This is an inescapable consequence of the fact that they are utterly dependent upon us to meet their most basic needs. For these reasons, I think that pet ownership should be drastically reduced and radically rethought.

What is a pet? Let me propose a novel definition, paraphrasing Yi-Fu Tuan: a pet is an object of our affections that we dominate. Philosophers define domination as an unconstrained imbalance of power that enables agents to control other agents or the conditions of their actions. My view is that our control of our pets is unjust because it is largely legally unconstrained: it is almost entirely up to an owner how she will or will not use her power. This fact, in turn, makes pets extremely vulnerable to abuse and, much more commonly, neglect.

Consider the average urban-dwelling dog. Almost nothing about her life is up to her: whether she receives adequate food, water, shelter, medical care, and social interaction is entirely down to the owner’s whims. This is because legally, pets are considered property; besides animal cruelty laws, there are no legally enforced standards for pet ownership.

The evidence suggests that the result of our dominion over our pets is an incredible amount of suffering. Although some pets are able to have genuinely good lives, owners as a whole seem either unable or unwilling to meet their pets’ complex needs. Let’s start with physical health. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than half of all dogs and cats in the U.S. are obese. The number of cats and dogs who never, in their entire life, visit a veterinarian is anywhere from about twenty-five to fifty percent, with most estimates falling on the higher end. At least 70 percent of captive reptiles die before they even reach the pet store shelf, and of these survivors, about 75 percent will not live past their first year as a pet.

Most of the animals we keep as pets are social creatures. Some, like dogs, have evolved to form strong emotional bonds with their human owners. But we humans are just as bad at ensuring our pets have rich social lives as we are at maintaining their physical health. The amount of time the average pet owner spends interacting with his or her critter is estimated at about 40 minutes a day — hardly enough to be called a reciprocal and mutually enhancing friendship. Goldfish are social creatures, but many are kept in tiny aquaria with no possibility of stimulating interaction either with their environment or other fish. For example, on Amazon one can find a USB Desk Organizer Aquarium — with attached desk organizer, including a multifunction pen holder and LCD calendar — that holds one and a half quarts of water (6 cups) and is advertised as suitable for live fish.

Many owners simply give away their animals when they no longer feel like shouldering the burden of caring for them. Somewhere between six and eight million dogs and cats and other sentient creatures pass through the shelter system each year; about one third of these are there because their owners brought them in. If they are lucky, these animals are adopted by a loving family. But many are not lucky: some 3 million are euthanized every year.

One challenge of ethically assessing pet ownership in the United States is the paucity of data, itself a sign of a troubling ethical insouciance. But the evidence of our mistreatment of our pets is all around us. To give one personal example: I once rented a house next to a family that owned a St. Bernard they kept in the backyard. This “family” dog spent almost all of the day baking under the New Mexico sun with no stimulation and no interaction with humans.

As we might expect, just as allowing humans to legally dominate one another — a practice that is outlawed almost everywhere in the world — leads to extreme suffering, so does allowing humans to legally dominate their pets. The echoes of human slavery in pet ownership raise the specter of a more radical objection: that pet ownership, like slavery, is wrong in itself. Luckily for pet owners everywhere, I do not think this claim can be sustained.

What makes slavery wrong in itself is that human beings have an actual and strong interest in autonomy, or in the ability to fulfill their desires unconstrained and uncontrolled by external forces. To say that they have an interest in this ability is to say that they desire it: human beings have the complex higher-order desire that they be able to fulfill their first-order desires without external constraint or control. Because slavery as such negates autonomy, it violates a human being’s autonomy interest. This makes slavery wrong as such. By contrast, I do not believe that animals have an autonomy interest. My dog wants to go outside, wants to snuggle with me on the couch, and wants to chase squirrels, but I very much doubt that my dog wants to be able to do these things without constraint. Having an autonomy interest requires a level of cognitive sophistication that our pets lack.

Although pet ownership is not wrong as such, this does not mean that we should rest content with the legal domination that is part and parcel of contemporary pet ownership. Instead, we should introduce far more stringent, and legally enforceable, standards. In particular, I propose that states adopt a pet “bill of rights,” to be enforced by a dedicated government agency, with at least the following provisions:

  1. Every pet is entitled to adequate food, shelter and water.
  2. Every pet is entitled to adequate medical care.
  3. Every pet is entitled to adequate physical and mental stimulation.
  4. If appropriate, every pet is entitled to adequate human or non-human companionship.

What can individuals do to make the world a better place for pets? Perhaps the choice with the greatest impact would be to not have a pet at all. The evidence suggests that many pet owners are not prepared to shoulder the burden of satisfying the pet bill of rights provisions. One should take this responsibility extremely seriously, which starts with considering seriously whether one is both willing and able to provide for another sentient being’s entire welfare.

Perhaps humanity’s greatest moral achievement to date was the abolition of legal slavery, driven by the insight that giving people legal dominion over other people is morally wrong. Our relationships with our pets are different in important respects from slavery. After all, many — though by no means all — owners are profoundly emotionally connected to their pets. There are already some legal protections for pets, as for all animals — although I have argued that these protections are woefully inadequate. Most importantly from the moral point of view, animals do not have the autonomy interest that would make pet ownership, like slavery, wrong in itself. Nevertheless, our history of slavery should make us sensitive to the moral implications of tolerating legal domination, even over non-human creatures.

COVID-19 and Food Justice

photograph of meat-packing workers crowded around conveyor belt

Despite the widespread effects of COVID-19 in the food industry and the centrality of that industry to everyone’s existence food and agriculture systems have not made their way to the forefront of the public conversation about the virus. Yet, the pandemic and the federal government’s bungled response to it reveals starkly how broken our food system is, and how standard responses to the virus threaten simply to maintain the status quo in the food system. The situation illuminates the inflexibility of a consolidated, industrialized food sector dominated by monopolistic companies, and the unethical consequences of such a system, whether under pandemic conditions or not. It highlights even more strikingly the untenable situation in which we find ourselves when it comes to industrialized animal agriculture.

Even as food waste has proliferated, for instance, with unpicked produce rotting in fields and eggs and milk deliberately destroyed, food banks struggled to keep up with the demand for their services. Food supplies have not been systematically redirected to meet the needs of the growing number of people experiencing food insecurity, but neither was production reduced or redirected. This issue is especially troubling with respect to animal agriculture, as farmers are forced to “depopulate” (i.e., cull) animals they cannot bring to slaughter, often using grisly methods. These disturbing problems are not merely the result of the pandemic, however, but are the natural consequence of conventional methods of raising, growing, producing, and distributing food. Closing or reducing the capacity of slaughterhouses threw off the chain of production because of the mechanical, systematic way animal products are produced: animals are continuously reproduced, bred to grow rapidly on a predictable, shortened schedule to maximize output, and raised in crowded confinement.

Our dependence on animals for food is also a direct contributor to the spread of the virus. Like bird flu, H1NI, SARS, MERS, West Nile Fever, Zika, Yellow Fever, and Ebola, which all have proven or suspected transmission via domesticated animals, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is a zoonotic disease that moves between humans and nonhuman animals. Although some of these diseases did not originate in domesticated animals, their spread is often amplified, in various ways, through humans’ close contact with them. In a recent report on preventing pandemics, the UN Environment Programme explained that, “The frequency of pathogenic microorganisms jumping from other animals to people is increasing due to unsustainable human activities. Pandemics such as the COVID-19 outbreak are a predictable and predicted outcome of how people source and grow food, trade animals, and alter environments.” Among the worrisome trends that the report addresses are increasing human demand for animal protein and unsustainable agricultural intensification, including factory farming. The UNEP recommends shifting from “short-term political responses to long-term political commitments to secure human, animal and environment health” as a way to reduce the risk of zoonoses.

A prime example of such a misguided and short-term political response to the pandemic’s effect on our food system is the Trump administration’s decision in April to invoke the Defense Production Act to force meat processing plants to remain open to “ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans.” Meat-processing plants rank among the top hotspots for COVID-19 and, to date, over 16,200 meatpacking workers have been infected with the virus and at least 86 have died. Not only is social distancing impossible given production speeds in such plants, but experts also hypothesize that normal working conditions in the plants encourage the spread of the virus. Despite continued assurances that workers’ lives and health are valued, this use of the DPA highlights the overall disregard for working-class, migrant, immigrant, and refugee workers that is a persistent feature of the food industry. Following this order, and receiving much less publicity, the USDHS removed limitations on the H-2B Visa program, making it easier for meat companies to hire guest workers. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union criticized both decisions as “a betrayal of America’s meatpacking workers, giving companies free pass to ignore safety.” The safety guidelines delineated by OSHA are voluntary and not enforceable, and companies are defying the state and local authority and law that could be used to protect workers, claiming that the federal mandate takes precedence. In addition, most people doing this work do not have the financial freedom not to return to work; the DPA order means that they can no longer utilize unemployment compensation, so they must choose to put their lives (and those of their families and members of their communities) at risk to make ends meet.

Designating meat-processing facilities as “critical infrastructure” through the DPA is a destructive decision, but is also a logical conclusion of the existing, exploitative system of agriculture and food production in the US, which involves farming so intensively as to deplete the soil, pollute the water, bolster antibiotic resistance, and harm the health of people in surrounding communities. Animals are treated as mere raw materials. Workers are devalued as replaceable and disposable, especially as the burden of farmwork shifted onto migrant laborers, people of color, and disempowered contract farmers. These kinds of exploitative relationships are at the heart of the system of industrialized, intensive agriculture because profit and efficiency, narrowly understood, are valued above all else. Through our food system, we have cultivated dependency on exploited labor, tortured animals, and powerful and monopolistic corporations, all in exchange for cheap, plentiful, and readily available food. The proliferation of COVID-19 outbreaks in meat-processing facilities is consistent with those values, revealing yet again that companies like Tyson are “… worried more about getting chicken on the shelves than the people who put the chicken on the shelf,” as one worker noted. While food corporations are adjusting to the new normal, they aim to go about business as usual by implementing testing regimes, which may foster the perception of safety in lieu of actually creating safe working conditions. But testing is not failsafe since it only identifies but does not prevent infection, and lag times as well as gaps between the administration of tests mean that workers could unknowingly be exposed to the virus before anyone realizes there’s a problem. Invoking the DPA to keep meat-processing facilities open thus clearly exposes the perverse logic of the dominant way of producing and consuming food.

Another looming global crisis, climate change, indicates how shortsighted and counterproductive it is to preserve the status quo with respect to food production and animal agriculture in particular. According to the UNFAO, animal agriculture is a significant driver of global climate change, contributing at least 18% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. By promoting the increased production and consumption of meat, the U.S. continues to ignore both the dangerous and intensifying consequences of climate change as well as the clear connections between animal husbandry and the spread of zoonoses. In fact, the frequency and transmission of zoonotic diseases are worsened by climate change: many disease vectors and the pathogens themselves tend to thrive in warmer, wetter climates, and in places where biological diversity is threatened. Thus, the more we depend on intensive animal agriculture for food, the more we commit ourselves to dangerous climate change, and, in light of both, the more likely we are to catalyze the outbreak of another deadly zoonotic disease like COVID-19. This risk is increased by both close and unnatural contact with animals as well as the changing environmental conditions brought on by climate instability. Yet, the approach of food companies and the federal government, along with many state governments, has been to uphold the status quo in our food system at all costs and, so, to declare that meat is so important that we will sacrifice human lives and climate stability to secure it.

The pandemic should be an occasion to call for changes to our food systems that genuinely bolster food security and protect human health by reducing reliance on a fragile, harmful, and overly centralized system of production. Yet, loosening the hold of industrialized animal agriculture on our system of food production is challenging because of the belief that meat is essential to both diet and the economy. It is unquestionable, however, that meat is not necessary, that there are various different sources of protein, and that alternative agricultural and food production enterprises could sustain the economy.

Still, we struggle to detach ourselves from the pervasive cultural narrative that we need meat. The standard American diet is synonymous with huge portions of meat, and many Americans consider a meal without it un-thinkable. This perception is unsurprising given that the USDA dietary guidelines do more to promote corporate interests than human health, and messaging campaigns funded by the government via check-off programs have been wildly successful in convincing Americans to increase consumption of animal products. Perhaps there’s no stronger evidence of the success of these efforts than the aforementioned use of the DPA, which fortifies the myth of the necessity of animal protein into law.

The pandemic has revealed our food and agricultural system to be cumbersome, unadaptable, unsafe, and unethical. The responses to the impact of COVID-19 on that system have been mere mitigation measures, simply shoring up the existing state of affairs. The current crisis, however, presents us with the opportunity to rethink how we relate to, produce, and consume food, and then to transform our food system radically. Such an examination should start with redefining what is truly “essential” regarding food and taking stock of all the costs of intensively raising animals for food. Meat, especially in the vast quantities produced in the US, is not essential. What is essential is a resilient, sustainable, and democratic food system that provides healthful food, offers safe and meaningful work, treats animals as sentient beings, and involves agricultural practices that conserve and sustain natural resources. The forms that such a system can take are myriad and no one agricultural model is a cure-all.

Likewise, in the face of global climate change, we must acknowledge that our real needs are radically different from how we have been accustomed to think of them. We need food systems that are flexible and responsive, that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that foster human health, that cultivate ecological, biological, and socio-cultural diversity, and that restore environmental integrity, especially in anticipation of climate instability and the resultant serious environmental problems. The work of organizations like Soul Fire Farm, which not only farms in ecological regenerative ways that sequester carbon but also prioritizes racial justice through mentorship and care for the local community, is a model. Policy changes are also necessary to address structural injustice and support the work of such organizations. One key move is to redirect agricultural subsidies from agribusiness, especially commodity crops and animal agriculture, to farmers using carbon neutral and carbon negative practices.

The global pandemic has highlighted all the ways in which our current food system is failing: instead of pouring more resources into a harmful food system and bolstering the profits of big agribusiness, we need a food system that serves the interests of the people from farm and factory to the table.

Is the “Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act” a Step in the Right Direction?

photograph taken of turkeys overcrowded in pens

On October 22nd, Congress unanimously passed the “Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act.” The law makes certain acts of cruelty against animals federal crimes. Before the federal law was passed, legislation protecting animals was largely a matter reserved for state legislatures. The law was met with praise from both private citizens and animal welfare organizations like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

The scope of the law is one of its most noteworthy positive features. Many animal welfare laws arbitrarily restrict protections to only certain species of animals—often companion animals or animals that human beings tend to find cute or pleasant. Bucking that trend, this bill includes, “non-human mammals, birds, reptiles or amphibians.” Specifically, the law prohibits the “crushing” of animals, where “crushing” is defined as “conduct in which one or more living non-human mammal, bird, reptile, or amphibian is purposely crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or otherwise subjected to serious bodily injury.”

While the law is laudable when it comes to the range of animals it protects, it is arbitrary in other ways. The protection the law provides is subject to noteworthy exemptions. The following conduct is exempt from protection: conduct that is, “a customary and normal veterinary, agricultural husbandry, or other animal management practice,” “the slaughter of animals for food,” “hunting, trapping, fishing, a sporting activity not otherwise prohibited by Federal law, predator control, or pest control,” action taken for the purpose of “medical or scientific research,” conduct that is “necessary to protect the life or property of a person,” and conduct “performed as part of euthanizing an animal.”

On its face, the law seems like a step in the right direction. The exemptions, however, should motivate reflection on the question of what a commitment to the prevention of animal cruelty actually looks like. Exemptions to a law can be useful when there are compelling moral reasons for them. In this case, however, the exemptions highlight the inconsistency in societal attitudes about just how wrong it is to be cruel to animals. It looks as if all the law really prevents is the callous, perhaps even psychopathic, infliction of pain on animals by private individuals. This isn’t where the majority of animal abuse and cruelty takes place.

Consider the first exemption, allowing for animal cruelty in the case of “a customary and normal veterinary, agricultural husbandry, or other animal management practice.” This exemption covers a tremendous number of interactions that occur between humans and animals. What’s more, there doesn’t seem to be any obvious moral justification for the exemption. If animal cruelty is bad, why would cruelty for the purposes of “animal management” be any less bad? This exemption also constitutes a fallacious appeal to common practice. The fact that a given practice is a “customary” part of animal management practices does not mean that the practice isn’t cruel.

The slaughter of animals for food is a particularly interesting case. One might think that this exemption is morally justified. After all, we must balance the interests of animals against the very real need that human beings have for sustenance. The legislators in this case felt that this balancing act ultimately favored the needs of human beings. There are a number of problems with this argument. First of all, it assumes that the harms we are justified in causing to other creatures can ultimately be justified by human need. That assumption may not be morally defensible. Second, human beings do not need to consume animal flesh in order to satisfy their nutritional needs. We continue to consume animals, in a way that is, ultimately, unsustainable, because human beings like the taste of animal flesh. Even if the question of how we ought to treat animals must be resolved using a balancing act, it doesn’t seem like a justification that is based purely on taste preferences could ever be sufficient to come out ahead in the balance. What’s more, even if such considerations could come out ahead, factory farms currently engage in cruel practices simply to maximize the volume of their “product,” and, as a result, the size of their profits. For example, chickens are kept under conditions in which they don’t have the space to fully spread their wings. To prevent them from cannibalizing one another under these stressful conditions, chickens are often “debeaked.” This cruelty could be avoided if these farms simply raised fewer chickens. The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act does nothing to address this cruelty—it actually provides exemptions for it.

Finally, the passage of this act may provide many people with the false impression that the government is protecting animals in a real, thoroughgoing way. Many people probably believe that cruelty to animals is strictly regulated and enforced by the government. After all, how could the vicious treatment of a living being not be against the law. Before this law passed, there were two pieces of federal legislation offering limited protections to animals. First is the Animal Welfare Act, passed in 1966. The Act nominally provides for the humane treatment of animals, and its mere existence may make citizens feel at ease with the protections afforded. The Act does ensure that animals in certain contexts, are provided with “adequate housing, sanitation, nutrition, water and veterinary care.” They must also be protected against extreme temperature. However, this law contains significant exemptions as well, of the same variety as those provided in the Act passed this year. The second bit of legislation is The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, passed in 1958 and revised in 1978. This Act only protects certain animals from being killed in particular kinds of inhumane ways. It does not prohibit cruelty full stop. The bottom line is that animals are not protected from cruelty by federal legislation. Despite the pleasant-sounding name of the “Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act,” the Act fails to provide protections where animals need them the most. It’s unfortunate that sometimes psychopaths and future serial killers kill animals for kicks, and that should certainly be against the law. At the end of the day, though, the real problems that we face have to do with our attitudes about animals and with the institutions that we’re willing to go to great lengths to protect.

Animals as Entertainment: Some Notes on Animal Bullying

photograph of dolphin balancing ball at zoo

Cats are scared of cucumbers.

If you haven’t seen the viral videos of pet owners sneaking up behind their feline companions and quietly placing a green vegetable just out of sight, you might be surprised to learn this fact. Nonetheless, it remains true that something about the unexpected presence of a long, emerald gourd activates a fear response in the cognitive systems of most cats. It may be that the visual similarities of such produce to predators like snakes primes the cat’s automatic reactions to flee from what it perceives as danger. To many cat-owners, and many more cat-video-watchers, these reactions are amusing (hence their popularity), but I have quite intentionally avoided providing links to any examples of such behavior, for the simple reason that I do not wish to support the mistreatment of animals, however small.

All things considered, needlessly scaring a pet is a minute example of the ways in which human and nonhuman animal interaction goes badly for the latter group; everything from hunting, to habitat destruction, to factory farming could be trotted out as an example of a far more serious case of animal mistreatment. Nevertheless, the relatively mundane instances of abuse, precisely because they are so common, are worth considering.

Take, for example, the recent report that as many as three-fourths of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums allow for or promote at least one form of patron experience demonstrably contrary to the best interests of the nonhuman animals involved. According to the international nonprofit organization World Animal Protection, examples range from allowing park-goers to take “wildlife selfies,” to pet or ride various large creatures, or to watch performances of nonhuman animals in demeaning, circus-like settings. In many cases, years of harmful training are required to prevent the animals in question from endangering the park-goers, including harsh methods to establish dominance over strong-willed creatures. Although zoos and aquariums are often heralded as important players in conservation efforts, insofar as they educate the general public about the value of nonhuman life, if they do so at the expense of the well-being of the animals most directly under their care, then questions of hypocrisy arise.

In a similar vein, wild creatures in America’s national parks are frequently cornered by well-intentioned nature-lovers in ways that inevitably lead to dangerous situations for humans and nonhumans alike. This year, bison attacks in Yellowstone and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota were captured on video – in one, a nine-year-old girl was launched into the air by a bison after a crowd of four or five dozen park visitors surrounded the animal for over 20 minutes. Although park regulations require guests to remain at least 25 yards from all wildlife, the average bison’s calm appearance gives many people the impression that it’s safe to approach. In reality, bison tend to conserve their energy until it is most needed, moving in quick, short bursts of intense speed. As Emily Perrine, a Swiss psychologist, explains, “We interpret this as the bison being nice, and wanting to be near us, and that they want us to touch them. We have to understand that our human behavioral signals are very different than the behavioral signals given by wild animals.”

 This is precisely the point: whether we are misreading ‘fearful’ as ‘calm,’ ‘broken’ as ‘playful,’ or ‘terrified’ as ‘amusing,’ we are misreading the animals we encounter nonetheless – and, in all seriousness, potentially causing them harm. If a third-grader perpetually tormented a skittish first-grader by hiding behind corners and jumping out to scare her, then tried to defend this bullying on the grounds that “I find it funny,” we would call her a bully nonetheless – so, too, with cat owners and their cucumbers.

If we truly wish to be the animals lovers we claim we are, then we would do well to try and imagine how they experience the world we share, just as much (if not more) than how we consider it for ourselves. This could take the form of the sorts of concerns about relations of dependence and moral orientations as highlighted by care ethicists like Carol Gilligan or Nel Nodding; philosophers in this tradition highlight how bonds between individuals can ground unique sorts of obligations and rights – such as those between a human pet owner and the creatures who depend on her. Or this might look like the sorts of perspectival concerns highlighted by Sandra Harding and others under the heading of ‘standpoint epistemology’ – the thesis that individuals in certain social positions have privileged access to various forms of knowledge. Even though the setting on the side of a Yellowstone trail might seem peaceful to the humans present, it might equally be quite stressful from the standpoint of the bison – giving this perspective serious consideration is not only epistemically virtuous, but morally preferable.

1 My thanks to Sofia Huerter and Jasmine Gunkel, whose paper presentations at this summer’s workshop of the Society for the Study of Ethics and Animals in Boulder, CO, provoked my thinking on these matters.

“How Long Must We Wait?”: Lessons from the History of the Animal Welfare Movement

close-up photograph of two pigs in dark room

In a series of boxes in the D.H. Hill Library at North Carolina State sit scores of historical pamphlets and newspaper articles advocating an end to cruelty toward animals. The documents date back to the nineteenth century, and provide an undeniable record of the history of strong public sentiment against the mistreatment of animals. The collection preserves the stories of countless activists who opposed inhumane treatment in slaughterhouses, research labs, the entertainment industry, transport, and sport, among other endeavors. These activists dedicated inspiring amounts of time, energy, and resources to a cause that is seldom given the attention that it is due.

The boxes are part of a much larger collection—The Tom Regan Animal Rights Archive. Regan was a philosopher and activist who established the archive to create a home for works dedicated to promoting the interests of non-human animals. His book The Case for Animal Rights is one of the most influential works of philosophy on the subject, but, as the archive shows, he was one thinker among many on an impressive intellectual family tree of animal activists. 

Advocates for animals have always faced significant challenges from many directions. Nineteenth and early twentieth century documents are full of writers defending themselves against the charge of excessive sentimentalism. In fact, empathy for animals was viewed by some at that time as a mental disorder. Zoophil-psychosis was a term coined by American psychologist Charles Lomis Dana in 1909 to refer to what he viewed as a hysterical condition of excessive concern for non-human animals.

The form that this “excessive” concern took was activism against vivisection (roughly, the use of animals in scientific experiments), abuses of animals in slaughterhouses, and other instances of cruelty and exploitation. This concern was not, of course, baseless or the product of a psychotic break from reality. The basis was and continues to be the simple recognition that other sentient beings can also experience pain and suffering, among other significant emotions. Though this fact about other creatures should be fairly obvious, it is a fact about which very few people pause to reflect. We need to ask ourselves the fundamental question: what is the nature of our moral obligations to other living beings who suffer?

Many women who were involved in the fight for women’s suffrage were also involved in reform movements to further the humane treatment of other beings. Female activists played essential roles in the formation of organizations such as The American Humane Society and The American Anti-Vivisection Society. A treasure of the Animal Rights Archive is a collection of original correspondence between suffragette and animal welfare advocate Sarah J. Eddy and physician and social reformer Albert Leffingwell.1 This correspondence highlights one of the most significant challenges the movement faces—transparency. In their letters, Eddy and Leffingwell stress the importance of dissemination of information, which in their time often came in the form of the proliferation of pamphlets. They were optimistic that if the facts were accessible to the public, the force of reason would prevail. It didn’t. Until the very end of the nineteenth century, there were no animal welfare laws that restricted the practices of those operating in laboratories and slaughterhouses. Stunningly, that situation remains largely unchanged today.

Even if the transparency issues could be settled, other significant problems remain. Abuse of animals has always been big business. Many people stand to gain from it. When there is money to be made, people can’t be bothered to be concerned about whether their products have feelings. Sadly our historical record demonstrates that this motivation can sometimes win out even when humans are the “products.” That we are subject to errors of this magnitude should cause us to reflect on practices that are more commonplace, but that nevertheless involve suffering. In a letter to Eddy, Leffingwell laments the perils of powerful interests,

When we began the special agitation on the subject of vivisection a few years ago, it was—on my part—, with a very strong hope that the Medical Profession generally would meet us “half-way”—as the saying is, and concede some degree of supervision and controls. I was very sure that as a class, the physicians of this country did not approve of unlimited experimentation, and our investigations of five years ago, embodied in the REPORT proved that I was correct. But experience has demonstrated that I was altogether too hopeful. The older men, who disapproved of unrestricted vivisection have been passing away, and their places are not filled. The men who were engaged in vivisection as a means of gaining their daily bread realized their danger and united in a common defense. It is not merely that they control the medical newspaper press throughout the country, and that they have the confidence of a majority of those concerned with learning,–with this they were not satisfied and have stooped to unworthy methods in defense of vivisection. Five years ago, I could not have believed that members of the American Medical Association would have sunk so low as to employ falsehoods as a method of argumentation.

The letters between Eddy and Leffingwell tell the story of a sustained fight for animal welfare that lasted decades. Though they, along with others deeply committed to the cause, succeeded in putting together a society of diligent advocates, little changed when it came to the actual treatment of non-human animals or with regard to legislating any significant protections. Leffingwell complains, 

If I could feel that little by little, we are undermining the confidence so wrongly given, and that one day the falsifiers will be utterly discredited, and (as Wendell Phillips used to say,)—“the Truth get a hearing” and be accepted generally, I should feel greatly encouraged. It does seem certain that in the long run, falsehood cannot overcome truth. But how long must we wait?

Sadly, it turns out that the answer to this question remains unclear—we’re still waiting. Special interest groups like the meat industry and big pharma are more powerful than ever. The value of the use of animals for the purpose of scientific research in our culture has become like an article of faith. We’re propelled blindly forward, chasing progress, unreflective about whether it’s really worth chasing and what the cost of our pursuit actually is.

Some laws exist that seemingly protect animals against powerful interest groups. In the spirit of the advocates that have come before us, we should insist on transparency when it comes to the plain fact that the protections that currently exist are nowhere near enough. Their existence does little more than create an illusion of protection for the animals in question. Two federal laws are worthy of note here. First is the Animal Welfare Act, passed in 1966. The Act nominally provides for the humane treatment of animals, and its mere existence may make citizens feel at ease with the protections afforded. The Act does ensure that animals in certain contexts, are provided with “adequate housing, sanitation, nutrition, water and veterinary care.” They must also be protected against extreme temperature. Crucially, however the Act, 

[…] does not cover every type of animal used in every type of activity. The following animals are not covered: farm animals used for food or fiber (fur, hide, etc.); coldblooded species (amphibians and reptiles); horses not used for research purposes; fish; invertebrates (crustaceans, insects, etc.); or birds, rats of the genus Rattus, and mice of the genus Mus that are bred for use in research.

Society is quick to provide protections for cats and dogs, animals that are likely to be companions, but not for the animals most commonly used for research or those that are slaughtered and killed for food.

The second piece of federal legislation of note is The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, passed in 1958 and revised in 1978. Again, on its face, the Act seems to promise humane treatment of animals killed for food (at least to those to whom that does not sound like an oxymoron). There are troubling truths about this Act as well. First, the Act does not apply to birds of any type. This is striking because the vast majority of animals that are killed for food are chickens (9 billion in the United States alone). What’s more, the protections provided by The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act are limited to ensuring that that animals don’t experience pain at the moment they are slaughtered. Animals must be “rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut.” The Act contains exemptions for religious slaughter. Notably absent are any protections for how animals must be treated while being raised for food. The abuses that take place during that time are significant and are articulated in careful detail in Peter Singer’s classic Animal Liberation.

When faced with facts about the way that animals are treated, and the lack of protection for those animals, it is important to be reflective. But change in one’s personal philosophy is not sufficient. As Tom Regan, championing the strategy of so many uncelebrated thinkers who came before him, says in the epilogue of The Case for Animal Rights, “How we change the dominant misconception of animals—indeed, whether we change it—is to large degree a political question. Might does not make right, but might does make law.” It’s up to us, then to take up the struggle.

1 Sarah J. Eddy and Albert Leffingwell Correspondence June 1898-1905. MC 00666 Halfbox 1

The UK Novocaine Shortage and Animal Welfare

close-up photograph of two chickens poking their heads out of cages.

Currently, the United Kingdom is facing a rather unique problem. Due to a plant failure and seasonal high demand, they are experiencing a shortage of the anesthetic Novocaine. Novocaine is widely known as the main pain management drug for dental practices however, the real effects of the shortage are seen in the veterinary and farming practices. Humans won’t be affected because there are many approved alternative anesthetics as options. Unfortunately for animals, there are fewer approved options for pain relief medication. In fact, The British Veterinary Association (BVA) president, Simon Doherty, says that vets have been able to only purchase a fraction of the required anesthesia needed for their practices.

Novocaine is used in many farming practices in the UK and across the world. There are many major causes of pain for farm animals including: disease, housing and handling, parturition, and routine practices like castration, tail docking, dehorning, ear-tagging, branding, teeth clipping, nose ringing, and beak trimming. According to a summary of pain research in 2018 by Agriculture, researchers looked to see if these procedures caused animals’ pain by looking at the long-term effects in their behaviors. Due to the nature of farming animals, who are prey animals, they have evolved to hide their pain in order to avoid opportunistic predators. The study was motivated by public concern for animal welfare and hope for finding ways to access animal’s pain levels since basic facial expressions are not enough.

The study found that pain has a significant negative effect on farming production and the animals’ quality of life. Lambs who had undergone castration and calves who had their horns cut off are less likely to engage in playful behavior. Animals with injury eat, move, and interact with children less, all indicating lingering pain. With the current shortage, the pain levels are increasing throughout the UK for animals that still have to undergo these painful procedures. The study supports the theory that it would be better in general to farm without inducing pain for the livestock.

The BVA has declared that the shortage will have “a very acute impact on animal welfare.” The term “acute” however could be misleading. Pain can be described in two ways, as acute or chronic. Acute pain is caused from injury, infection, or inflammation. It is short-lived and responds to effective pain relief. Chronic pain is long-lasting pain that continues after the healing process. With this shortage of pain relief medicine, the farm animals in the UK will be experiencing an increase of acute pain across the nation. This shortage has raised the question, should we give pain relief to farming animals?

Moral vegetarians would argue that causing animals pain while raising them for food, especially when there are other alternatives, is wrong. It is frequently seen that the conditions that the animals raised in are inhumane and animals suffer physically and psychologically.  For example, pigs distressed will bite their own tails, so farmers often cut them off. Chickens in tight spaces will peck at each other so farmers slice off the edge of the beak. While the European Union mandates that farmers first try to improve an animal’s conditions, this rule is frequently ignored. There may be a moral obligation to discontinue these practices given that farming creates unnecessary suffering. If one accepts this, then, some vegetarians argue, isn’t it an obligation to not consume the food that is unethically raised and produced?

The anesthesia option challenges this picture as Novocaine lessens the harm animals experience in the process. The goal of reducing animal harm is met with near universal acceptance. It applies to any kind of work that involves animals including veterinarians, medical research, zoos, farming, and more. The veterinary code of ethics states that, “A veterinarian shall provide competent veterinary medical clinical care under the terms of a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR), with compassion and respect for animal welfare and human health.” Novocaine is a solution to pain management and can diminish the challenges that the profession of farming has for the animal’s well-being.

Another bonus from reducing harm for farm animals with anesthesia is that it can increase farming production and result in higher profits for farmers. Pain weakens the immune response, makes animals sicker, eat less and grow more slowly, and leads animals to reject their offspring. With less pain, the risk of these conflicts is dramatically lowered.

The main pushback towards using Novocaine for farming animals, even in countries where there is a wide range of pain relief options, is that it is expensive. There are more than 50 billion animals raised and slaughtered for agriculture annually. Paying for  all of those animals’ pain relief would be extremely costly and unrealistic. Ultimately these animals are going to be raised to be eventually killed for consumption. In fact, in the US, pain relief isn’t used. It wasn’t until 2017 that the FDA approved the drug banamine transderm to treat the painful disease foot rot and pyrexica (a fever) associated with bovine respiratory disease. One contributing factor to this policy is the limited number of approved anesthetics for animals given the challenging nature of the drug. Variety in animals’ anatomy, life style, and behavior create an extra challenge for scientists to find drugs that will be effective in reducing pain and last long enough to do so.

This is not to say that farmers who do not use anesthetics act unethically. As previously mentioned, it can be difficult to recognize pain in these prey animals. Further, assessments will differ on whether temporary pain has a justifiable benefit for the future well-being of an animal. US policy may be defensible, but it could be worth considering if anesthetics should be a more common practice for all farming practices worldwide.

The Triumph of California’s Impure Prop. 12

"Different Pigs," by Arran Moffatt licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Via Flickr).

Among a bevy of complicated results from the 2018 midterm elections, voters in California this month resoundingly chose to support a ballot measure designed to protect the wellbeing of industrial livestock. The “Farm Animal Confinement Initiative” – or Proposition 12 – was passed with 61 percent of the vote, setting California on a path to reshape the landscape of large-scale farming operations, including fully eliminating the use of cages by egg producers, over the next three years.

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