Dr. Dawg

Animal cruelty

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Warning: the above video is not to be viewed by the squeamish.

Horrific cases of brutality in Indonesia like those shown in the video have led Australia to impose a six-month cattle export ban to that country. That’s a substantial reaction, remarkable, in fact, given the importance of their cattle trade, and a backlash is already taking shape. As for Indonesia, the government is worrying that the ban will cause beef prices to skyrocket. Good.

But an observer (admittedly one with an axe to grind) has noticed that the Aussie government appears to be more exercised by this than by the canings routinely meted out to illegal immigrants in Malaysia. That country is due to receive a boatload of migrants from Australia, and immunity has apparently been negotiated so that they will not be whipped as soon as they step off the boat. But there are no long-term guarantees that these deported migrants will be treated more humanely than others in the long run. The rattan is a savage form of human-on-human cruelty, although hospital treatment, not slaughter, eventuates.

Empathy seems a rather fluid commodity, in abundance here, in scarcity there. We feel it, off and on, for both animals and humans. Cruelty to dogs, in our own society, arouses deep anger in particular, although our laws on animal cruelty are grossly insufficient. But most of us eat meat, knowing full well that the animals in question have usually led terrible lives in factory-farm conditions.

I understand veganism—my stepdaughter practises it—but I think that position is as philosophically flawed as the “they’re only animals, who cares” one—in fact, it’s considerably less consistent. If it is unethical to kill animals for food, even “humanely,” then what is our responsibility to animals in the wild becoming the prey of other animals? Do we intervene? Do we wean lions off antelopes, and, if so, how? Do we feed our pet dogs and cats animal companions vegetarian fare?

The Indonesian scandal, in any case, forces the carnivores among us to step back and consider what limits we might impose upon the preparation of the food we eat. We find ourselves appalled by the wanton cruelty carried on in the Indonesian abbatoirs, but less so by the lives of undoubted pain and anxiety suffered by mass-produced chickens and pigs here at home.

I’ve mentioned before that I’d cheerfully pay a premium for ethically produced meat, assuming that such a thing exists, but the meat-eating world as a whole simply cannot afford small-scale, pre-industrial production. The demand is too great, and overwhelms empathy.

Some problems—and this is hard for any of us to admit—simply don’t have solutions. Is our collective penchant for carnivory one of them?

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on June 10, 2011 12:11 PM.

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