Mary Martin deconstructs an editorial in today’s New York Times, which states in no uncertain terms that “animal husbandry has been turned into animal abuse.” I’d like to chime in on a quote Mary pulled from a Pew Commission report referenced in the editorial:
“The present system of producing food animals (sic) in the United States is not sustainable and presents an unacceptable level of risk to public health and damage to the environment, as well as unnecessary harm to the animals we raise for food.”
I was surprised Mary didn’t include a deconstruction of the hideously speciesist term “food animals” (i.e., nonhuman animals bred, confined and killed for the purposes of consumption), but she was already taking on a lot with that post, primarily the underlying assumptions in the editorial and these reports. It would seem that they all take for granted that consuming other beings is necessary.
As vegans know, there is some faulty thinking behind this assumption, and I wanted to expand on Mary’s post briefly by offering an excerpt of my own, from Gary L. Francione’s Introduction to Animal Rights, in which he works from the principles that inform our animal welfare laws and builds out from there, doing the proper mental math:
…we are supposed to balance our interests against those of animals in order to determine whether particular animal use or treatment is necessary. But because animals are property, and because we have great respect for property rights, we have decided–before we even start our balancing process–that it is morally acceptable to use animals for food, hunting, entertainment, clothing, experiments, product testing, and so forth. That is, we generally do not question whether particular institutions of animal use are necessary; rather we inquire only whether particular practices that are part of those various institutions are necessary.
This is a very important distinction, but it is frequently overlooked even by animal rights advocates. Focusing on how animals are treated takes as its base assumption that using animals is necessary and acceptable in the first place. Those of us who purport to advocate animal rights ought to be focusing everything we have on exposing the inaccuracy of this assumption, not reinforcing it with activism that seeks to regulate the ways in which humans treat nonhumans.
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