Month: March 2007

Ethics of cloning

I occasionally receive emails asking what I think of certain issues, and I’ve often thought about refashioning my responses into posts for the site. Well, I suppose I should get on with it, then.

Q: I was wondering, what government policy do you feel should be established to regulate cloning?

Do you feel that animals should be used to harvest organ replacement for humans and/or produce pharmaceutical products and why do you feel that way?

Are there any circumstances where cloning of animals to benefit humans would be acceptable?

Could cloning be used to save a species from going extinct?

A: The key to answering your various questions is to understand the fundamental tenets of true animal rights (i.e., not welfare):

Animals are sentient beings whose inherent rights cannot ethically be violated merely because it is expedient for us to ignore them.

Their intelligence, self-awareness, and their feelings set them far apart from the “things” in nature like rocks and plants. In fact, in all ways that matter morally, non-human animals are rather like us. After all, we are each of us animals, too. Our shared interests in simply living–experiencing freedom of movement, freedom from pain and suffering, to forge familial and social bonds, and to express natural behaviors–make any differences between us trivial and completely irrelevant from an ethical standpoint.

In other words, non-human animals possess all the fundamental prerequisites necessary to consider them full members of the moral community. Thus, a non-human’s individuality as a self aware being inherently entitles her to the basic right to be left alone and not to be treated as a human resource. So, from that framework you can see that it is morally objectionable to use any animal for any purpose, just as it is morally objectionable to use humans for any purpose.

Of course, this response does not begin to address the myriad technical problems with cloning, a procedure that typically has a very low success rate and has high risks for the very few clones that are successfully created, many of whom are born with health defects. Additionally, at this time, there’s no accounting for abnormal gene expression. Clones don’t necessarily turn out to be carbon copies of their parents, and scientists still don’t understand why clones appear to have shorter or longer telomeres, affecting the clone’s lifespan in unpredictable ways, often by shortening their lives drastically.

I only bring these issues up in brief because they present a powerful argument against cloning from an animal welfare perspective as well, if one is so inclined as to look at the issue from that point of view. Unsuccessful cloning, very much the norm, produces its own ethical quandary.

I’d like to leave you with one last thought. Cloning presents yet another potential threat to biodiversity, the very cornerstone of evolution. As a natural, time-tested method of adaptation to changing climate conditions, biodiversity is key to survival for all species on earth and, as such, any threat to it should be viewed with grave concern.

‘Cousins’ at War: Baboons vs. People

ABC News

It’s easy for most of us to forget that our ancestors lived much more closely with wildlife from day to day. But the fact is that many people still do. And, as the human population continues to grow and expand, we will see more stories about habitat conflicts between human and non-human animals.

As that occurs, everyone should bear in mind this vital quote from Jenni Trehowen of Baboon Matters:

“You don’t have to like baboons. You certainly don’t have to like bears or coyotes like you’ve got in America, but if you could learn to accept that they are here, and they have a right to be here.”

She added, “What small steps do we need to adjust in our lives so that we can actually all enjoy the planet together, rather than thinking we are the dominant species therefore we own it all.”

Guest Post: "Natural" products mask speciesism

Jan Austin Smith is an English and creative writing student at UC Irvine and president of Irvine Students Against Animal Cruelty (ISAAC). He has two novels under his non-leather belt already, and is developing ideas for the animal rights novel he hopes will be the hardest-hitting semi-fictional expose this side of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

“Natural” products mask speciesism
by Jan Austin Smith

This past weekend the Anaheim Convention Center hosted the Natural Products Expo, an industry-only showcase for thousands of companies and products. With the help of a gracious superstar vegan athlete, I was able to get in on Sunday. I spent the day trying out samples, talking to people, soliciting advertising for Go Vegan Radio, and scowling at certain unsightly exhibits.

I think I sampled at least half a dozen dairy-free nice creams—that’s like ice cream, but nicer—including the delicious Temptation out of Chicago, the only nice cream made on equipment not shared with non-vegan ingredients. While there were many fantastic vegan products being exhibited, there was also a preponderance of disconcerting ones. One booth featured elk meat and venison… As if it wasn’t bad enough that we’re intensively breeding, confining and slaughtering animals by the tens of billions, we round up wild animals and turn them into a neat little packaged consumer product, too?

It seemed like everywhere I looked, I saw “humane meat” and “cage-free” eggs. I contest both of those terms. There is no conceivable way to kill someone needlessly for food and have it be humane. It just can’t happen. Eating “humane meat” is kind of like putting a pillow at the bottom of the stairs before you push grandma down them. And while the hens may be free of small wire cages, they are still packed together by the thousands in sheds (larger cages), trapped in bondage to humankind.

This has been a frequently-raised issue lately. With Whole Foods Market’s new commitment to “Animal Compassionate Standards,” and groups like HSUS and PETA praising the chain for its ethical treatment of animals, “humane meat” is a rapidly expanding market. This couldn’t be more troubling. Now people—people who may’ve been leaning toward a plant-based diet, or even those who’d already adopted one for ethical reasons—are lulled into feeling good about consuming animal-derived products again. After all, the two most publicly prominent animal protection groups have given it their seal of approval. It must be okay now!

But this couldn’t be further from the truth. The only humane meat is no meat (or perhaps organic soy “meat”). The only cage-free eggs are no eggs at all. The most insidious part of animal agribusiness is the fundamental principle underlying the exploitation and commodification of living beings, not the hormones and antibiotics or the size of cages and gestation crates. We must never turn down the opportunity to convey that animals have a vested interest in not being ours to use and manipulate, no matter how well we treat them. Advocating on behalf of animals is about undoing speciesism, not making it more palatable with grossly misleading terms.

The friend I had for lunch

Daily Mail (UK)

Here’s another account of a televised brush with one’s feelings toward animals, including a step-by-step description of a lamb’s slaughter process (fair warning: I do include that description in my excerpt below). There are moments of near-revelation, which could have led to adopting a diet free of animal flesh, much less their eggs and milk, but the author (like others before) seems eager to put the experience in the past and continue eating animals once the memories fade…

It really does make me wonder why some people respond as I and others did when having similar connections to where our food really comes from, i.e., going vegan, and why others do their best to shake off the experience, as if some sort of bad dream. Plenty of opinions are expressed in the article, and they are quite common, but Tom Rawstorne actually takes the time to examine them, so I’ll refrain from dissecting them here. Suffice it to say that the arguments presented for eating animals simply cannot compare to the violence of taking another life, and come off as rather shallow and self-serving.

You would think the sheer process of analyzing these feelings and writing about it for the Daily Mail would fix the experience in one’s mind so much as to make it unforgettable, but denial is a pretty common reaction, too. I suppose I can hope that a seed has been planted, and that the author will never be able to let this go, perhaps one day actually choosing to abstain from eating other beings, as I have also seen happen.

Until he had the misfortune of meeting me, there’s no doubt Faw-Faw had a good life. Born last April, he has been running free outdoors ever since, and has eaten nothing more than his mother’s milk, grass and a handful of winter feed made from wheat and barley.

*snip*

The trouble is I’m also starting to form some sort of bond with Faw-Faw. On Wednesday night I visit him at the abattoir in Sturminster Newton, where his life is going to end. He’s in a barn divided into stalls that are filled with 20-odd cattle and the same number of sheep. There’s straw on the floor, hay to eat and water to drink.

*snip*

The following morning at 7.30am he’s herded the 50 yards from death row to the abattoir. It is a clinical place, where the animals are hooked up and slaughtered efficiently.

The slaughterman places a giant pair of tongs about his head, and a massive jolt of electricity renders him instantly unconscious.

He’s then hooked onto an overhead conveyor belt by his rear legs, and a single sweep of a knife severs the carotid artery in the throat. This process takes about ten seconds.

Suspended upside down, the lamb’s still-beating heart pumps a flood of blood on to the floor for about one minute. Faw-Faw is no more.

I’m doing fine so far but it’s the transition from sheep to meat that gets me. As he passes down the line his feet and head are cut off, the pelt peeled back and the guts tumbled out.

The carcass is steaming and I feel nauseous, a feeling that reaches cheek-bulging proportions when I place a hand on the pink, slightly sticky, ribcage. It’s hot and the flesh is soft, gelatinous. And yet no longer alive.

A few yards on and the bureaucracy kicks on. The carcass is weighed, visually checked for signs of disease, stamped by the inspectors and then a joint of meat cut out and handed to me. I hold it in my bare hands and feel that heat again, the muscles ticking, the flesh twitching, and enough’s enough. I’m out of there.

An hour later, I’m back at Richard’s farmhouse near Warminster, and have pulled myself together enough to place that same piece of meat in the oven, a sprinkling of dried rosemary and a bit of garlic on top.

Some 40 minutes on and out it comes. It looks and smells delicious. I try to eat a piece but twice have to spit it out. Something about it, its animal smell I think, reminds me too much of that slaughterhouse.

The third mouthful I manage to swallow – I persevere, because in a way I feel I owe it to Faw-Faw. What a waste otherwise.

It’s a good bit of eating, as Brian promised, and doubtless would have been better still had it been hung for a week or so, as is normal practice. But I can’t eat any more now anyway.

Richard says he’ll send me some other cuts, and I thank him, fairly confident that by then the memories, my senses, will have dulled enough for me to really enjoy it.

In the meantime, I reflect on the experience and am surprised how much it has affected me.

On the whole (as of this writing), the comments have not been favorable toward this “sentimental” view of animals, so you may want to chime in with your thoughts. You can also email the editor, but don’t forget to include your full name and contact information to be considered for publication.