Harry Clarke On economics, politics & other things

March 12, 2014

EPA rejects review of WA shark cull

Filed under: animal liberation,animal rights — hc @ 5:02 pm

There has been much uninformed criticism of the WA cull. Similar culling practices already occur in NSW and Queensland.  But the EPA also gets it wrong. The EPA boss says that public opinion is irrelevant to issues of environmental protection a statement that is entirely false.  In fact the way most environmental protection measures are conducted is to use an approach such as “contingent valuation” to find out by how much the community values the object of the protection. Maybe the EPA boss was quoted out of context but even so this language is most misleading.

The EPA justify the view that the cull causes no environmental harm because it claims no shark species is threatened with extinction as a result of the cull.  That in itself is an extremely narrow basis for making such environmental valuations.  I find the idea of a cull morally abhorrent because it supports the idea of killing sentient beings in their wild state purely because they exist and may prove an inconvenience to people.  It would be hypocritical to criticise tiger hunts in India or rhino hunts in Africa on the grounds that the continued existence of such species might cause harm to humans.  These concerns arise even if the resulting hunting does not lead species to be endangered.  It is just morally wrong.

It is also inconsistent with the views of the 23,000 people who signed a petition objecting to the cull. The EPA’s boss view that the views of such people are irrelevant to public policy decision making is a total outrage.  Who wants civil servants with such attitudes?  He didn’t have to agree with the petitioners – there may be other arguments – but their viewpoints were decidedly not irrelevant.




October 18, 2013

Don’t buy civet coffee

Filed under: animal liberation,animal rights — hc @ 8:00 am

This YouTube shows why. It isn’t fashionable or smart to use coffee beans that have been passed through the arse end of a civet. It promotes cruelty to the animals.

So too is eating civet – in China they are considered a delicacy that strengthens sex organs. Ancient Chinese medicine or ancient baloney?

Mother nature may be getting its own back here – civets may be the origin of SARS.

October 16, 2013

Islam & animal liberation

Filed under: animal liberation — hc @ 6:13 pm

I am interested in connections between religion and animal ethics.  The Bible is ambiguous on the issue – at times lording humans over non-humans (we are, after all, the “Sons” of God!) and at times showing compassion. St Francis (one of the great figures of Catholicism who does inspire me) prayed to the birds! I am been studying other religions a bit and there is obviously, in many cases, both ambiguity in teaching and a gulf between teaching and practice.  Islam displays a number of these characteristics but the emphasis on the formalities of the Halal ritual often fails to account for the Prophet’s concern with intrinsic animal welfare.   I am pleased that debates on animal rights and the humane treatment of animals is now actively occurring within Islam.  Look at the link.

August 13, 2013

Killing animals: The case of hunting

Filed under: animal liberation,animal rights — hc @ 9:16 pm

I recently joined a group of hunters pursuing Sambar deer in central Victoria – the mountainous area not far from Walhalla.  As one who teaches classes on animal rights I do have strong views on the subject but wanted to see myself what goes on.  To be clear I did not hunt myself – I was an observer.  (more…)

May 3, 2013


Filed under: animal liberation,animal rights — hc @ 7:10 pm

What animals should be assigned moral status? Some (like Peter Singer) draw the lines at crustaceans and shrimp?  What about octopuses (octopi?) These creatures have remarkable intelligences including the ability to change their colour to suit their environment.  They also have remarkable straightforward reasoning power in anthropocentric terms.

I liked this piece in the NY Review of Books.  I thought it was going to be offbeat and humorous. It isn’t – it is a good read but it also has serious ethical intent.  Simply put: We should not take a narrow anthropocentric view of the world when it comes to attaching moral consideration to non-human life.  Humans don’t have it all.


April 7, 2013

Protecting animals from torture as a form of terrorism

Filed under: animal liberation,animal rights — hc @ 9:46 pm

I was interested to read in the NYT that in a dozen US states it is now (i) Illegal for unauthorised whistle-blowers to make videos of workers harming farm animals and (ii) that any such videos must be turned into the authorities and not screened.  The grounds seem to be that this form of whistle-blowing violates the legal property rights that animal owners have over their animals, exposes them to economic losses and that such activities are a form of “ecological terrorism”.

A free-market group ALEC which links to the Heartland Institute is claimed by the NYT to be behind these legislative moves. Here is the Draft Bill they propose. ALEC is claimed to be one of the groups opposing the cigarette plain packaging legislation in Australia.

The best defence against animal liberationist whistle-blowers is, of course, to treat animals humanely. “Ag gag” bills are not the answer – a better approach is to move towards the humane and decent animal rights practices adopted in other countries and in enlightened parts of the US.

March 21, 2013

Inghams & animal cruelty

Filed under: animal liberation — hc @ 10:20 am

Inghams Enterprises is one of the largest chicken and the largest turkey supplier in Australia.  It was a private company but was recently sold to TPG for $880 million.  Its former owner Bob Ingham is worth over $1b. The sale will undoubtedly make its new owner a lot of money – but unless things change this will be money based on unnecessary animal suffering. As Australia’s Animal Liberation points out Ingham’s workers torture and abuse the animals it sells.  I am an “uncomfortable” carnivore but I won’t buy these products again and I encourage others to do the same.

Inghams has an “animal rights” policy (to “minimise distress and pain”) which is meaningless because it is not enforced.  Even if it is costly to enforce it must be enforced. No excuses, the failure to ensure that sentient beings do not experience unnecessary pain and suffering prior to being killed to provide food for us is a disgrace. So too is the cruel behaviour of the workers shown in the video clip – they are barbarians who should go to jail.


November 19, 2012

Animal ethics

Filed under: animal liberation,animal rights,ethics — hc @ 7:51 pm

I am doing some work on environmental and specifically animal ethics. Comments appreciated on this first draft on the animal ethics topic. (more…)

June 26, 2011

Animal welfare again

Filed under: animal liberation,animal rights — hc @ 11:00 am

I am pleased that the issue of animal cruelty has been raised in relation to the ritual killing of sheep and other animals for Jewish and Muslim consumers. It is important that humans extend their scope of welfare concerns to both all forms of human life and to non-human life as well. This is not an attack on religious freedom* but a questioning of the implications of certain practices for animal cruelty.   Leaving animals killed for human consumption in a slow and tortuous way is simple cruelty and cannot be justified on moral or religious grounds.  Of course  that this extreme cruelty is compressed into a relatively short period – at most a few minutes – is an issue.  Exposing animals to a lifetime of unrelenting misery in a factory farm is probably in animal welfare terms much more harmful that failing to stun them before their throats are slit. But neither does this temporal comparison justify imposing a cruel death sentence.

* Of course as an atheist I do not believe or accept these religious theories so to that extent I am intolerant of them.  The  behaviour advocated by these religious groups increases my conviction that their activities are not being directed by ‘God’.

June 9, 2011

Animal rights

Filed under: animal liberation,animal rights — hc @ 10:54 am

Throughout my life I have been a somewhat hypocritical carnivore.  I eat meat (and invest in agricultural businesses) but fundamentally dislike the notion of killing animals for food.  The best way I can live with this hypocrisy is to seek to promote humane treatment of the animals that as a human I do eat. I oppose extremes of factory farming and the cruel treatment of animals generally – we should be prepared to pay more for protein that is gained by humane methods.  I think the welfare of animals should be included in society’s welfare function and that the lives of animals should be made as pleasant and free from misery as possible.  Animals experience pleasure and suffering and the welfare of all sentient beings matters. In particular, if animals are slaughtered for meat then this process should be as quick and painless as possible. Animals should not be exposed to pain and extreme fear. The recent Four Corners show that featured beef cattle being tortured in Indonesia left me feeling depressed and unable to sleep – the sight that stuck in my head was the steer shivering with fear as it watched other cattle being butchered only a few metres away.  The treatment was not related to Islam as some seem to indirectly suggest (cruelty is forbidden under Islam) but to callous ignorance and a human insensitivity to the most extreme forms of cruelty.

The export ban imposed by the Gillard government seems to me an appropriate policy response.  The Indonesian Government yesterday responded by threatening to appeal to the WTO that Australia had discriminated unfairly against Indonesia because other countries that Australia exports too have the same cruel slaughtering practices as Indonesia but are not being subjected to a ban.  This bizarre logic does not deny the cruelty – government officials in Jakarta say they are also concerned with the cruelty – but argues that it is wrong for Australia to seek to stop it in one location if the cruelty is not being addressed elsewhere. My own view is that these other countries should be sought out and the ban on live exports also extended to them.  Yes the value of my agricultural investments will go down but the idea that I am profiting from unnecessarily cruel treatment of animals hurts me far more than any profits lost.  I hope that farmers do feel the same way.

The Australian agricultural sector should not base its prosperity and growth on the barbarous treatment of innocent animals.

January 1, 2011

Yao Ming on ‘finning’

Filed under: animal liberation,animal rights,China — hc @ 12:28 pm

I was delighted to see an advertisement on CCTV Beijing where a legendary Chinese basket baller, the 7 foot 6 inch, Yao Min, rejects a plate of shark’s fin soup.  In fact, as I later found out,  he has been pursuing a campaign against the appalling practice of ‘finning’ (removal of a shark’s fin and then dumping the live shark at sea) since 2006. The advertisement was my auspicious start to New Year’s Day as they had the TV on when I took breakfast this morning in a cafe in Beijing.  The advertisement opens with an image of a finless shark in its death throes at the bottom of the ocean. Yao Min is seen sitting in a restaurant pushing away a bowl of shark’s fin soup. All the other dinners follow.  

The irony, of course,  is that the wealthy Yao Min owns the Shanghai Sharks basketball team.

What would really make me happy would be if China enacted a general law against animal cruelty.  Current laws protect endangered species but do not protect the welfare of animals in general.  There are private groups in China seeking to improve the status of animals in China.

September 22, 2010

Eliminating carnivores?

Filed under: animal liberation,animal rights — hc @ 3:03 pm

This provocative piece “The Meat Eaters” by Jeff McMahan in NYT has aroused much negative comment. The  idea is an extension of ‘animal liberation’ and ‘vegen’ philosophy. The question: Should we arrange for the gradual extinction of all carnivores so that only herbivores remain in order to avoid animal suffering? (more…)

August 13, 2008

Animal rights & joys of libertarian dismissal of such

Filed under: animal liberation,ethics — hc @ 1:43 am

This Inside-Out China blog posting pours scorn on the notion of animal rights much to the delight of Jason Soon at Catallaxy. The Chinese sometimes have an insensitive way of dealing with animals but I am not surprised that libertarians oppose criticisms of people’s rights to do with non-human life what they like. It accords with their ‘anything goes’ philosophy – to do otherwise would be interfering with their precious individual rights and to offer what are essentially paternalistically imposed moral restrictions on such rights. Libertarians see themselves as having the right to bear arms and to kill and maim provided they do not offend Pigou – who only considered human suffering in his analysis of external costs. Who could criticise?

But yes obviously I do criticise. I am not a vegetarian but a carnivore. However I resolutely oppose cruelty to animals and find despicable the killing of sentient beings for sport and the casual disregard of animal suffering and death. I assert the almost universally agreed on proposition that animals do have rights. That this is the case is obvious – even libertarians will dislike the callous cruelty displayed in the Chinese clip. Thus by consensus animals do have rights – the question is where to draw the line on such rights. My line is somewhere short of giving animals the same rights as humans but certainly to give them more rights than displayed by the Chinese sadists in the clip or those assigned by the nitwits at the Inside-out China blog.

When we kill animals for their food or other products it should be a painless death and animal lives should not be a monotone stream of suffering. In fact, for me, things go well beyond this – to the extent that animals derive pleasure from their existence – evidence convinces me they are capable of such enjoyment – I am happier, so as an economist I am interested in promoting as far as it is possible a joyous life for animals as well as humans. Animal utilities enter into my social welfare function.

In my view there is value to the notion of animal rights. The libertarian opponents of animal rights are ‘barking out’ an ideology that reflects their defective reason, their callous disregard for non-human suffering and their posturing to defend foolish values that promotes laissez faire in clearly inappropriate situations.

BTW look at the discussion that follows the post mentioned at Catallaxy. This site was once one of the better blogs in Australia. What has happened?

Update: For those of you too lazy to read the Inside-Out China blog article I refer to I excerpt some bits:

‘Western folk, to a greater or lesser degree, believe animals have rights. ….They empathize with animals. They value animals as contributing something to our environment greater than their immediate utility to humans. I don’t. I feel the same way about gorillas as most Westerners feel about chickens. Dolphins? Yum. Dogs? Can’t eat my fill. And don’t even get me started on minke whales, the cockroaches of the ocean.

…… there was far too much human suffering going on for me to give up any of my concern or empathy for animals…… Who cares about cattle when real people, human beings, are dying like cattle?

….If Western people want non-Westerners to be nicer to animals, they should support things that create and spread wealth—for example, free trade and globalization. …. Once China’s per-capita GDP gets high enough, Chinese, like WASPS, may love animals, too’. (my bold)

In short who cares about animals – they have no legitimate rights once it is acknowledged that ‘we’ humans are suffering. If you want us to stop being cruel improve our well-being. This is the article that commenter libertarian Jason Soon says he recommended because it was ‘well-written’. Note the view of minke whales and animals generally. This argument is not the reason libertarians defend the right to have guns and to hunt and kill animals for sport. That’s just good old-fashioned ‘doin’ your own thing’ and who could be paternalistic enough to want to deny that? Me, for one.

February 24, 2007

Dolphin slaughter in Japan

Filed under: animal liberation,International — hc @ 3:12 pm

I am not a vegetarian although I have sympathies with the animal rights movement. Animals have rights that should be protected by humans. This is a plausible ethical position. That almost all humans recognize such rights is implied by the near universal aversion civilized people feel regarding deliberate cruelty to animals. This suggests that animals have at least some rights – the only arguable question is the extent of such rights. Exercising this logic suggests if we are going to kill animals for food then the killing should, at least, avoid unnecessary suffering. That is not a sufficient condition to guarantee legitimate animal rights but it is necessary.

Unnecessary suffering is not avoided in the case of the tragic slaughter of dolphins in Japan. Please take a look. You might also want to look at this whaling clip - killing whales too is not only about limiting their conservation – it is also about inflicting unnecessary suffering.

J.M. Coetzee compares the treatment of animals in a slaughterhouse to the holocaust. This view causes distress to people who lost relatives at the hands of the Nazis, or just to those who appreciate the scale of the Nazi evil. But aspects of Coetzee’s argument make sense.

‘In the 20th Century, a group of powerful and bloody-minded men in Germany hit on the idea of adapting the methods of the industrial stockyard, as pioneered and perfected in Chicago, to the slaughter – or what they preferred to call the processing of human beings.

Of course we cried out in horror when we found out what they had been up to. What a terrible crime to treat human beings like cattle – if we had only known beforehand. But our cry should more accurately have been: What a terrible crime to treat human beings like units in an industrial process. And that cry should have had a postscript: What a terrible crime – come to think of it, a crime against nature – to treat any living being like a unit in an industrial process.’

Coetzee states that children offered the brightest hope, he wrote: ‘It takes but one glance into a slaughterhouse to turn a child into a lifelong vegetarian.’ He claims that our hypocrisy in relation to the slaughter of animals is revealed by our attempts to hide the reality of slaughtering animals out-of –sight.

‘Therefore they arrange their lives in such a way that they need be reminded of farms and abattoirs as little as possible, and they do their best to ensure their children are kept in the dark too, because children have tender hearts and are easily moved’.

Coetzee seems to be wrong at least about some Japanese and their children. The sight of a Japanese school kid walking with indifference past an animal writhing in agony in the video is distressing as is the attitude of workers who, while hacking into live dolphins obviously writhing in pain, seem unconcerned that school kids are viewing what is going on.

If you feel like attaching your signature to a petition to the Japanese Prime Minister regarding the dolphin slaughter do so here. You might be able to help shame the Japanese Government into stopping such practices although I have no idea how you change the cultural attitudes of people who see such behavior as reasonable and benign.

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