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Some intellectual thoughts from a law professor

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I posted this a while back on the old forum but felt it was worthy of a re-post. Written by a Canadian Professor of law. A must read for anybody who considers themselves an intellectual, veggie or not!!!


"Animals Always Pay" , by Ronald Sklar, Professor of Law at McGill University.


If we have to slaughter cattle en masse because of mad-cow fears, will we think about their suffering? asks law professor RONALD SKLAR


In the introduction to Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, Matthew Scully relates the story of the foot-and-mouth plague that swept through Great Britain and then Europe in 2001, beginning with "one pig at a British slaughterhouse." It eventually resulted in the slaughter of 10-million animals -- pigs, cows and sheep.


The initial reaction in Great Britain to the news of "one pig" and the confirmation of the disease it carried was similar to the reaction this week to the news of one cow in Alberta confirmed to have "mad cow disease" or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The announcement sparked fear bordering on panic at the possible economic impact on the farmers involved, the meat industry and, finally, on the country itself.


There is a further similarity between the two situations: Nobody in Great Britain then, or in Canada now, is talking about the impact on the animals. It's as if the animals that will have to be killed are not living beings, only "commodities." Their value is solely economic; no worth is given to their life. We don't think about how they will be killed: the shootings, the bulldozing of the bodies into pits, the terror for the animals. Many, probably most, will not even be infected with BSE. But the herds must be destroyed, that's all there is to it.


In his book, Matthew Scully says that a change took place in England and Europe when the actual slaughters began. The scenes left those who watched on television or read about them in the press "sick and sad and empty." He writes: "One knew that something had gone terribly wrong. Something deep and serious and beyond the power of vaccines or borders or cullings to contain. We saw, in all their simplicity, the facts of the case. Here were innocent, living creatures, and they deserved better, and we just can't treat life that way."


Everyone hopes we won't have to endure such scenes in Canada, but if the slaughters of cows do come, will we have that flash of insight? Will that insight bring us to ask the broader question of how animals are routinely treated on our industrial or "factory" farms? Can we possibly undertake that moral self-examination even without the impetus of scenes that make us "sick and sad and empty?"


I should perhaps confess to my bias in such matters. I originated and teach a course called Animal Law/Welfare/Rights at McGill University's Faculty of Law and am a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. I believe, along with PETA and similar animal-advocacy organizations, that animals deserve better than the callousness and mistreatment they receive at humanity's hands.



Nowhere is that callousness and mistreatment worse than on our large industrial farms. Until they meet up with the unnecessary cruelty and inhumanity at the slaughterhouse, beef cattle have it relatively better than the rest of the animals. They are not imprisoned in "battery cages" and sheds by the hundreds of thousands, as are poultry and pigs. Nor do they spend the four months of their life cramped into stalls so small there is no room even to turn their heads or stretch out into a natural resting position, as are veal calves; or confined in stalls for 10 months of the year, emerging only when taken to milking machines and kept constantly pregnant only to lose their calves within hours of birth to the veal and pet food industries, as are dairy cows -- all in the name of producing cheap food.


There are moral issues here that we refuse to recognize. When one group with the power to advance its own self-interests exploits a group completely lacking in power, the powerful group has to face the question of the morality of its conduct. It was that way with slavery; it is that way with our use of animals. As Mr. Scully writes: "When a quarter-million birds are stuffed into a single shed, unable even to flap their wings, when more than a million pigs inhabit a single farm, never once stepping into the light of day, when every year tens of millions of creatures go to their death without knowing the least measure of human kindness, it is time to question old assumptions, to ask what we are doing and what spirit drives us on."


As a society, we haven't asked those questions. If we were at least to admit that there is a moral issue, and that we need to open a dialogue among ourselves about the extent to which we can continue this exploitation, it would be a start toward a new plane of human existence.


There are some significant signs that this is beginning to happen. Books like Mr. Scully's and lead articles in The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker on the animal-welfare -- or "rights" if you wish -- movement have appeared within the past year. McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's, reacting to pressure from PETA, have declared they will monitor animal conditions on their supplier farms. The United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland have outlawed "battery cages" for chickens. Sweden has also outlawed veal crates and farrowing crates, which confine pigs in cages during pregnancy and the birth and suckling period, totally restricting the movements of these active animals. In 1998, the European Council enacted a directive "Concerning the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes" with the goal of avoiding "any unnecessary pain or injury" to farm animals.


Animal-care committees in universities vet research involving animals. Laws banning medical research on the great apes have been passed in Great Britain and New Zealand and are being considered in other countries. (No medical research on great apes is currently being carried out in Canada.)


Call it a "right" as do American law professors Tom Regan and Steven Wise; call it a "basic moral principle" as does Princeton philosopher Peter Singer in his seminal book, Animal Liberation, or call it "common human decency and kindness," as does Matthew Scully.


Whatever we call it, it's now time to give to the non-human animals that share this world with us the humane consideration they deserve.


And let's not wait until we have to watch mass cow slaughterings on television.


Ronald Sklar is a professor in McGill University's Faculty of Law.

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