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Animals and Why They Matter
by Maxwell G.Lee
IVU Newsletter - October 1995

It is often claimed, especially by certain religious groups, that animals were put on Earth for people to use as they think fit. This point of view helps explain the extent of hurnan misuse of the animal kingdom. The attitude to animals among many people is rather similar to that adopted by beings towards those considered of lesser value. Slavery, for long an established and accepted way of treating others in human societies, reflects an attitude which is similar to that adopted to animals by many people in contemporary society. Respect for life is a slogan often quoted today and one should reflect on it and its importance in suggesting respect not only for other humans but also for all life forms whether animal or vegetable. All have their place in the world. We need to live on something and it is often suggested we should go as far down the food chain as possible for our food. Vegetarians have gone part of the way and vegans and fruitarians even further. All three approaches are based on respect for life and the view that animals should be treated much better by humans.

Cruelty is virtually endemic in human society and one can but wonder what it is that makes so many humans to seek and enjoy cruelty in their lives. The cruelties in so called sports are worthy of considerable attention in their own right. However, this article is mainly concerned with the vegetarian approach. Some do not consider it cruel to eat animals and suggest that they are well treated whilst they are alive. Of course, this has become patently untrue with the growth of factory farming methods and the lack of any consideration for natural behaviour in animals. Whether it is putting calves into boxes which deny them access to their mothers, the open air and the green fields which are their natural habitat, or keeping chickens in intensive systems which deny them the ability to spread their wings and carry out their natural habits; these and many other practices are all based on a lack of concern and care for the animals.

The arguments in their favour are economic although those who practice such cruelties usually suggest the animals prefer such treatment. If such practices are not cruel, what are they? Suggesting, as some do, that animals do not choose to come out of sheds and similar conditions even if the doors are left open is more the result of conditioning than choice. One thing is sure, the animals are not given that choice! Modern Western society has much to answer for in encouraging a meat/animal based diet. Unfortunately, some in the developing world see such an approach as Western and this means attractive! They give scant regard to the treatment of the animals and the effects of meat eating an health and the environment. Population pressure in many developing countries is argument enough for cutting down and abandoning a meat based diet.

Animal production in intensive systems concentrates the animal waste products rather than spreading them over the fields as manure for the future. What was once seen as desirable now becomes a nuisance and an economic problem. Disposal of the waste is costly and the problem is closely related to the increase in meat consumption. Farmers like to pump the waste into water courses, streams and rivers to pollute and destroy the eco systems which have existed for so long. In addition, the intensive nature of factory farming means disease is much more likely to spread so animals are treated with large amounts of antibiotics. growth enhancers and similar products. Of course, these concentrate in the meat and lead to illnesses and disease in humans. Additionally, some of them find their way into the water system and are taken up further along the water course where the impure water is once again pumped out for human use and purification does not remove all these residues.

The rise of cancer, heart disease, kidney and liver disease as well as diabetes and a variety of other health conditions, relates closely to the increase in meat consumption. Medical research provides ample evidence that a vegetarian diet is better for health and that the incidence of many unpleasant diseases is much less common among vegetarians. It is good to do something for moral reasons but even better when one discovers that it is good for one's health as well!

The growth of vegetarianism in the Western world is testament to the increasing desire among many people to live a more humane, healthy and environmentally friendly way of life. In North America, South America, Europe and Australasia, there is a marked and continuing growth of vegetarianism. In Eastern Europe and Middle Europe, since the political changes, there has been an upsurge in interest in vegetarianism. Vegetarian and animal movements have been developed and are winning increasing support. In Asia, governmental encouragernent to meat consumption is being resisted by vegetarian groups. In a country like India, with a long history of Ahimsa, respect for life and so vegetarianism, the battle for vegetarianism is being waged by religious and moral groups as well as environmentalists and doctors who appreciate the benefits of the vegetarian approach. In Britain the surge to vegetarianism has been very marked in the last twenty years so that now vegetarians are no longer seen as strange or odd but part of the mainstream. Vegetarian meals are available in all parts of the country and young people are moving towards vegetarianism. Supermarkets display a good range of vegetarian products, making shopping much easier, and drawing the attention of meat eaters to the wide variety of good healthy and humane feeds which vegetarians eat. Linda McCartney, wife of the famous Beatle, Paul McCartney (both of whom recently became Patrons of The Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom), has produced a range of imitation meat products including pies and sausages which are attracting many people who do not consider themselves vegetarian. Such developments are increasingly being mirrored in other countries.

Modern technology has a great deal to answer for in relation to human treatment of animals. Recently, the rise in biotechnology and genetic engineering has led to new ways of using animals for human purposes, and morality seems to be little considered when thinking of the ways in which species can be engineered to enable humans to more fully exploit them. If humans have rights over animals, it can equally be argued they have responsibilities. This means they need to consider the animal, its welfare and its good. Unfortunately, the present situation suggests these issues are given little, if any, attention by the vast majority of people. The only issues which concern them is maximising the economic return from the animals.

Often it is argued that because animals are different species from humans, the way in which we treat them is not important. Of course, people who express such views might equally not be too concerned about how other human societies are treated. Many of us can see a relationship between the two. People who treat other humans with respect are more likely to show respect to other species. More than once one has heard the suggestion that concern for animals should be replaced by concern for humans. People interested in animal rights are normally just as concerned about human suffering.

We know that animals feel pain and suffer and show distress. We cannot fully understand their thought processes but there is ample evidence that animals have their societies and their way of life. Who is to say that in the fullness of time their rights should be any less than those expected and sought by humans? Many animals are less intelligent than humans but there is considerable variation in intelligence among humans. If one argues that the lower intelligence of many animals gives us the right to treat them as we will, without real concern, then one might equally argue that less intelligent humans might be similarly treated. Indeed, certain political philosphies, although very much discredited, have put forward such arguments.

We are on this planet for a finite time and how we interact and use the planet will affect future generations, possibly until the end of the world as we know it. One can claim that it is in our interest to minimise suffering and malpractice that animals and humans suffer, and to move to a more humane world at peace with itself. Assuming that this is a goal that the vast majority of people see as see as desirable, then we need to improve our treatment of both humans and animals. People generally wish to live a healthy life and the vegetarian approach is one that leads in that direction whilst also minimising the suffering of other animal species. The whole meat eating approach is based on hypocrisy. People use some animals as pets and treat them in a special way. Other animals are often seen as pests or food so they do not warrant the care and protection that pets receive. It is worth remembering that, in many countries, if one were to treat one's pet animals in the way in which farm animals are treated then one would be liable to prosecution in the courts. Many wild animals receive no legal protection at all so are there for hunters and anyone else to seek them out and to treat them as they wish.

It is my contention that the future of the world is very much related to how we treat our weaker fellow creatures. Cruelty and evil should play no part in a civilised society. Although we often claim that we are civilsed, I would contend that this is far from the case. These days we look upon slavery with horror and find it hard to understand how such practices have lasted for so long, and even now exist in some parts of the world. As we move away from human slavery, we need to look to the next step, and move away from animal slavery. Both for moral and selfish reasons a vegetarian world lacking exploitation and cruelty to humans and other animals needs to be our goal. If we do not bother now, the future of all creatures will continue to be black.

Maxwell G.Lee

  • Animals - from the Articles Index

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