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. (1983)