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Killing animals cruelly

I am a somewhat uncomfortable carnivore who eats meat daily.   Uncomfortable because I value the life of all sentient beings but continue to eat the flesh of animals killed for human consumption.  There are standard arguments I can plausibly tell to justify this practice (it encourages additional animals to gain access to life etc) but, in truth, its probably best to see my eating habitats as hypocrisy.  I think animal lives should be included in the social welfare function (SWF) and generally* – not always – I would attach a lower positive weight to the welfare of animals in that function than for humans.  Then human societies should maximise the welfare of human life and, with a generally lower weight, non-human life in the SWF.  Eating animals is not consistent with maximising SWF so, as a second-best attempt to deal with my hypocrisy, I suggest that animals used for food should lead lives that involve as much pleasure as possible and with their death for human consumption occurring painlessly and without inducing fear.

That is not what is happening with the live export trade of sheep and cattle exported from Australia.  Animals are exported to countries such as Indonesia and Pakistan where cruelty to animals is a largely**  acceptable part of the local culture – in the recent sheep incident animals were dumped half dead in animals only to be recovered after days of suffering to a Pakistani lamb supplier.  When we allow such cruelty to be directed at animals that we breed for consumption we are responsible for the cruelty.  Let’s ban the live trade outright and cop the economic cost whatever it is – at most about 1 per cent of our GDP.  Moreover, given the horrors that animals endure on a lengthy voyage to these places, I am unconvinced the ban should ever be lifted.

Future generations will look back on the way we treat animals with the contempt that we direct to the way the Nazis treated the Jews and other ethnic minorities.  Let’s make a stand and divorce our standard of living from unnecessary cruelty directed towards non-human life.  It will not cost us a lot in conventionally-measured GDP losses and our correctly-defined SWF will increase in value.

Update: The last meeting of the year of the Labor caucus will consider a ban.

* Certain endangered species, such as our close relatives in the ape family, should be assigned higher welfare weightings than the humans who threaten their survival.

** Largely, not completely. Some Pakistani workers at the site where the 20,000 sheep were tortured and killed, photographed the incidents and were clearly repelled by what they saw. (1857)

33 comments to Killing animals cruelly

  • rog

    The big problem is that these markets lack basic services, like refrigeration, so must have the meat live. People must eat and to deprive poorer people of animal protein is unfair particularly when it is to appease western sensibilities which appears to support military actions but doesn’t like animal cruelty. Some sense of proportion must be brought to the issue, there must be a better way to serve both groups.

  • hc

    Support for certain military actions seems to me something you can debate but it does not mean that cruelty to animals should be supported or allowed to continue. Nor, for that matter, does poverty excuse barbarism towards animals.

    Some western sensibilities are wothwhile. If these nations seek live exports they must ensure humane treatment of animals.

  • rog

    Stopping live trade won’t stop cruelty to animals. Animal cruelty is endemic, everybody cheers the winner of the Melbourne Cup but the fate of the also rans can be cruel and traumatic.

  • Jim Rose

    If some animals count for something, which animals count, how much do they count, and how can this be determined?

    Suppose (as I believe the evidence supports) that eating animals is not necessary for health and is not less expensive than alternate equally healthy diets available to people in the United States.

    The gain, then, from the eating of animals is pleasures of the palate, gustatory delights, varied tastes. I would not claim that these are not truly pleasant, delightful, and interesting.

    The question is: do they, or rather does the marginal addition in them gained by eating animals rather than only nonanimals, outweigh the moral weight to be given to animals’ lives and pain?

    Given that animals are to count for something, is the extra gain obtained by eating them rather than nonanimal products greater than the moral cost?

    from Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia [New York: Basic Books, 1974], 36-7

  • Fran Barlow

    Thanks for at least opposing the live export trade. It seems to me that this ought to be a starting point for anyone concerned with humane treatment of non-human sentient beings.

    Rog:

    The big problem is that these markets lack basic services, like refrigeration, so must have the meat live.

    A non sequitur, even if true. No they don’t.

    Firstly, the people who do eat meat have access to refrigeration.

    Secondly, most of the meat consumed in Pakistan is goat meat not sheep meat. This is a lifestyle choice. In any event 100% of the sheep were discarded — the regime “deprived” them of this meat.

    Thirdly, the meat was initially intended for Bahrain but was shopped out to Pakistan when it was rejected — so it wasn’t there mainly for reasons of regular demand.

    Fourthly, it is mostly the wealthy who eat this meat, not the poor. The wealthy are not going to go hungry, even in Pakistan.

    Finally speaking as someone who has consumed no flesh at all since 1982 and is in perfect health, I can attest that nobody needs meat to acquire protein.

  • Fran Barlow

    Stopping live trade won’t stop cruelty to animals.

    Irrelevant. Having a health care system doesn’t stop all illness — even preventable illness. That’s not an argument against having a health care system. Having child protection systems doesn’t stop all child abuse and neglect. Again, this is not an argument against measures aimed at constraining the abuse and neglect of children.

    Animal cruelty is endemic. Everybody cheers the winner of the Melbourne Cup but the fate of the also rans can be cruel and traumatic.

    See above. FTR, I neither cheer the winner of the Melbourne Cup nor the event itself. If horse racing were abandoned, I’d be happy with that — so not everyone does. Most English-speaking adults in Australia? Probably. But not everyone.

  • Jim Rose

    if we stop eating meat, where will all the sheep and cows go? retirement homes?

  • Fran Barlow

    Jim Rose:

    if we stop eating meat, where will all the sheep and cows go? retirement homes?

    In practice, this wouldn’t happen over a day or a week or even a decade. Anima;ls raised for meat would decline in jumbers until they became a rarity and eventually non-existent.

    Of course, allowing (improbably) that the practice of eating meat were to cease everywhere tomorrow, I’d favour the most humane form of euthanasia available.

  • Jim Rose

    isn’t this species extinction. what of the biodiversity loss. sheep and cows will be declared endangered species.

  • Fran Barlow

    isn’t this species extinction. what of the biodiversity loss. sheep and cows will be declared endangered species.

    These are not naturally occurring species, so no.

  • hc

    The issue here is the live export trade not whether we should be vegetarians. The premise is that animals will still be slaughtered for food. Given that the argument is that a cruel death following a lengthy ocean voyage is something we should not tolerate.

  • Jim Rose

    Hc, is live animal trade allowed between australian ports for domestic consummption. How far can an animial be taken inside australia before slaughter? transport costs aside, I assume you can’t drive forever?

  • Fran Barlow

    HC

    The issue here is the live export trade not whether we should be vegetarians. The premise is that animals will still be slaughtered for food. Given that the argument is that a cruel death following a lengthy ocean voyage is something we should not tolerate.

    I agree, but as Jim and Rog opened the door …

  • rog

    According to DAFF the majority of meat is frozen/chilled however live trade is significant.

    http://www.daff.gov.au/animal-plant-health/welfare/export-trade/live-vs-frozen

    The fatalities in transit are usually <1%

    http://www.daff.gov.au/animal-plant-health/welfare/export-trade/mortalities

    Work is being made on supply chain regulation.

  • Fran Barlow

    Rog:

    To begin with, those stats declare that there have been about 500,000 sheep mortalities in the years 2000-2011. That may be a small percentage but it’s a large number. Of course, we are sending them there in the hope that eventually, there will be 100% will be butchered so the real variable is not deaths but suffering prior to death — and those stats don’t measure that at all.

    They also don’t measure the differential suffering imposed on animals once the path to butchering is outside of Australian jurisdiction.

    Whatever the trade is worth, it can’t be worth enough to make this the sort of proposition humane people could ignore. If livestock must be butchered, let us do it here as humanely as possible as geographically and temporally as near as practicable to where they were raised. Let others buy the meat frozen. If that turns out to be measurably less profitable, then that’s just too bad, IMO.

  • rog

    Fran

    You have to accept that mortality is an issue on farm as well as off farm and I suspect that the ship rates are below average.

    The issue is what happens when they are on sold and (I believe that) this is being addressed by regulation ie a system of accreditation.

  • Fran Barlow

    Rog:

    You have to accept that mortality is an issue on farm as well as off farm and I suspect that the ship rates are below average.

    As I said, given that 100% mortality is the goal — the ideal, where they die is of virtually zero interest. How they live prior to death is the key issue. What suffering is imposed on them before death is the key.

    From a humanitarian perspective, it doesn’t really matter whether more die on ships or on farms or on feedlots at either end, except that these might be one measure of the quality of their circumstances. From a trade perspective, they are supposed to arrive as live animals rather than decomposing carcasses and high on-ship losses suggest poor management and provision. However, low on-ship losses don’t prove good management. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. One would need good quality data on the condition of the sheep on farm, at feedlot, on loading and then on unloading. The numbers and cost of this make detailed examination moot. Whether the animals are stressed is of no interest to butchers, plainly.

  • Jim Rose

    why do they have to be exported live in the first place? Is it not enough to slaughter halal(?) style in oz?

  • Mel

    I respect your argument and the sentiments behind it Harry, but I disagree. If Australia stops live animal exports, animals will be imported from countries with less interest in animal welfare than Australia.

    I personally have no moral problem with eating meat provided minimum welfare standards are met. Your typical sheep enjoys a much more comfortable standard of living than its wild ancestors, who would have been mostly riddled with parasites and forever in danger of being ripped to shreds by predators.

    A well run farm is a welfare state; nature is Randian Libertarianism, red in tooth and claw.

  • hc

    Mel, your last argument suggests we should eliminate carnivores. See:

    http://www.harryrclarke.com/2010/09/22/eliminating-carnivores/

    There are many counterarguments to this view.

    The argument that we shouldn’t stop animal cruelty because others are crueler doesn’t seem very sensible either. I think there are good reasons to clean up our own act, irrespective of what others do, for non-consequentialist, ethical reasons.

    It’s a bit like Cardinal Pell’s opposition to a Royal Commission on pedophilia and child abuse in the Catholic Church. Even though it seems to be pervasive throughout the Church he claims this is not a serious issue because it occurs everywhere in the community.

  • Fran Barlow

    Mel:

    If Australia stops live animal exports, animals will be imported from countries with less interest in animal welfare than Australia.

    At worst, that will mean our hands are clean. It is not a defence to say that one person acted unethically because some other would have acted as unethically/or worse. Each of us is responsible for our own acts, and for those over whom we have decisive influence. If Australia were to cease involvement in live exports and some other player were to enter the market, the inhumane acts of the jurisdiction would have exactly the same ethical character. The difference would be that some other exporter would stand condemned. That nation’s pople would then have the responsibility of ending the trade.

    In any event, it is clear that Australia’s sentiments, even if they were more hostile to inhumanity than some hypothetical competitor stepping into the breach is entirely moot. We have admitted that there is absolutely nothing we can do. The cruelty is done by the local jurisdiction without consideration of the attitude of the exporter.

    It being not clear that Pakistan, for example, could get a rival exporter to supply what they want in the quantities they want it, your hypothetical proposition is unfalsifiable.

    Your typical sheep enjoys a much more comfortable standard of living than its wild ancestors, who would have been mostly riddled with parasites and forever in danger of being ripped to shreds by predators.

    Maybe so, but of course, we are not responsible for the the wild ancestor. Some of them would have been killed horribly as you say, but the modern ones die in droughts and sometimes get attacked by feral dogs. I daresay the numbers would still put the weild ancestors in front.

    As to their modern counterparts if they were not raised in the first place, the question of their welfare would not arise.

    One might add as well that the sheep only went to Pakistan because Bahrain had rejected them. That meant Australia had no leverage. Short of getting out of the trade, it’s hard to see how that could not occur again. If we don’t send them to Pakistan, we still need some way of humanely slaughtering them.

    A well run farm is a welfare state

    Except that the modern welfare state is not designed to prepare people for slaughter. It’s supposed to give them a hand when they need it on their journey to autonomy.

  • conrad

    As an alternative solution, wouldn’t it be simpler just to have a few roaming inspectors that monitored things world-wide? This might cost a few million all up, but that’s peanuts compared to how much the industry would lose if people finally got fed up with the live trade. Personally, I think it’s really a matter of degree, and it’s not surprising we place the bar higher than in places where people live lives not a whole lot better than the animals they eat (possibly worse in many cases).

  • Mel

    If we stop live sheep exports we’ll have yet another round of farmer suicides. I like farmers, I live on an acreage surrounded by farms and there is a sheep farm across the road. At night, when the winds blows the right way, I can hear the bleats of many a contented sheep. On the hand, I’ve smacked sick and dying kangaroos and rabbits on my block on the back of the head with a shovel to put them out of their misery.

    Fran:

    “Except that the modern welfare state is not designed to prepare people for slaughter. It’s supposed to give them a hand when they need it on their journey to autonomy.”

    Since sheep don’t have the mental faculties necessary to understand the concept of slaughter, I don’t think it matters.

  • Fran Barlow

    Mel:

    If we stop live sheep exports we’ll have yet another round of farmer suicides.

    So according to you, millions of sheep must be brutalised so a handful of farmers (pastoralists really) can be happy. I don’t like that trade. It seems to me that if you’re right, the pastoral business ought to be closed to all but the most robust of personalities. It might be less marginal then.

    Since sheep don’t have the mental faculties necessary to understand the concept of slaughter, I don’t think it matters.
    ..

    Your last five words have been your most candid. You lack empathy. This is the true basis for appealing in favour of live exports.

  • conrad

    “Since sheep don’t have the mental faculties necessary to understand the concept of slaughter, I don’t think it matters.”

    They certainly have pain receptors — indeed, I believe even insects do. It’s also clear that most animals (mammals at least), don’t like pain. Even insects avoid dangerous situations.

  • Mel

    Fran: “You lack empathy.”

    Oh f#ck off you lunatic. Australian farmers have a higher than average suicide rate and you flippantly dismiss consideration of the psychological impacts of destroying their livelihood based on a faux concern for sheep. You haven’t provided a single shred of evidence to suggest that even one less sheep will be “brutalised” if the Australian live sheep export trade is replaced by an alternative export trade.

    Conrad, sheep feel pain but if they are humanely slaughtered pain is minimised and many times less intense and drawn out than a “natural” death for a wild animal, which generally involves starvation, thirst, being torn to shreds by a predator or succumbing to an untreated ailment. I maintain however, that sheep are not smart enough to conceptualise slaughter in the way humans can and this is important. No sheep sits under a gum tree in a moment of existential crisis and thinks to itself, “is this all there is?”.

  • Fran Barlow

    Australian farmers have a higher than average suicide rate and you flippantly dismiss consideration of the psychological impacts of destroying their livelihood based on a faux concern for sheep.

    That’s as may be. The fact is that this stat (if true also of pastoralists) has occurred notwithstanding live sheep and cattle exports. Has it declined since live exports were introduced? Not sure.

    It’s just possible that the farming/pastoral life isn’t conducive to mental health and that this, rather than the vicissitudes of the industry predispose serious mental illness. I’m all for doing what we reasonably can to ease their distress — and in many cases this might entail moving them into some more suitable work setting — but your proposed sheep v pastoralists zero sum game seems fanciful and ethically indefensible.

    You haven’t provided a single shred of evidence to suggest that even one less sheep will be “brutalised” if the Australian live sheep export trade is replaced by an alternative export trade.

    That’s because I don’t need to show it — nor could it be shown until we adopted this course. What is clear is that sheep raised in Australia would be less brutalised, and that is sufficient warrant to abandon live exports.

  • Fran Barlow

    PS:

    There’s nothing “faux” about my concern for the welfare of animals. I’ve been involved in animal welfare issues since 1982.

  • Mel

    Fran, you’ve told us about your past as a Maoist, a Spartacist and a Marxist-Leninist. As various historical examples show, people of your ilk have always harbored ill-will towards the “peasants”. In fact your ideological comrades have slaughtered them far more viciously and in much greater numbers than Australian live export sheep.

    And to pick up on another one of your falsehoods:

    “Fourthly, it is mostly the wealthy who eat this meat, not the poor. The wealthy are not going to go hungry, even in Pakistan.”

    The poor generally make do with the cheaper cuts of meat and derive considerable calories and protein from it. Many dishes we enjoy today, such as the Osso Bucco I ate last night, began life as a peasant dish. As you are a moderately intelligent individual, I know you are aware of this.

    Consequently, not only do you want to drive Australian farmers into bankruptcy and suicide, you also want to contribute to malnutrition among poor people and the resultant stunting and brain damage of poor children. You vile creature.

  • Fran Barlow

    I wondered how long you’d reach for an old-fashioned redbait Mel. My ‘ideological comrades’ have slaughtered nobody. I gave up the Maoists in 1977 but for the record, they were very pro-peasant.

    not only {even} do you want to drive Australian farmers {pastoralists} into bankruptcy and suicide

    And of course you reach for the smear … You are an unhinged dishonest reactionary.

    One of the things the first world needs to sdo is to work systematically to overcome disadvantage in all its forms in the developing world. We don’t need to brutalise sheep to do that. Assisting the privileged of Pakistan to choose boutique foods procured through torture and the trashing of the ecosphere is not a priority.

    Interestingly, it was Pakistan and Bahrain that knocked back the sheep, so your smear is particularly bizarre.

  • Mel

    Fran: “You are an unhinged dishonest reactionary.”

    You want to deny poor people in the developing world access to animal protein. You are clearly a racist turd and a demented old battle-axe.

  • Fran Barlow

    Ok Mel,

    Much as you did over at Professor Quiggin’s site, you’ve shown you bring nothing to this subject but but angst, bile and ignorant rightwing talking points. You remind me of usenet trolls I used to encounter when there in the early 2000s.

    Out of respect for Harry you can have your tantrum without my help. I feel sorry seeing your pain and lack of cognitive accomplishment, but you are going to need someone other than me to help you deal with it.

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