Treatment of animals extends to every species, genus

By Natalie Russell / Columnist

What could be more exemplary of a culture’s contradictory beliefs than its condemnation and legal punishment of dog abusers, despite one of its culinary staples being the meat of cows that have been held captive, slaughtered, gutted and ground into hamburger?

Given the fact that there is no biological, neurological or otherwise scientific reason for valuing the life of a dog over a cow, the distinction between the two can only be reduced to an arbitrary cultural norm. Legal and public opinion say that the animals we are most familiar with — cats, dogs, parrots, goldfish, certain reptiles — deserve the highest-quality care and protection.

Meanwhile, pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys and sheep are perfectly fine to abuse, hold captive and mass slaughter because we like the way they taste and find other body parts useful for clothing, decoration or testing cosmetics.

PETA, among other organizations, have researched and cited scientific evidence for the neurological complexity of non-human animals, and more still to prove that these beings (the ones we commonly eat, at least) experience emotions, build relationships, plan for the future and have a sense of self-awareness. Why would we use animals for research if they were so biologically and neurologically different from us?

But despite the remarkable complexity of non-human animals, all of these facts are irrelevant to the question of how we should treat them. If a being is sentient, and thus, has the capacity to experience pain, then it is fundamentally wrong to abuse or kill it.

According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 94 percent of Americans consider themselves carnivores — a figure that has remained unchanged since 1999. The USDA also recently reported that in 2013, the average American consumed 203.2 pounds of poultry and red meat. This is evidence that most people don’t find eating meat to be morally problematic, while most would also agree that the abuse of cats and dogs is abominable.

Buying locally or “free-range” meats isn’t much of a step up either, since the USDA has laughable standards with minimal enforcement. Currently, USDA free-range regulations apply only to poultry and outline vague requirements that the animal has been allowed outside. There are no stipulations regarding the quality or size of the outside range, nor the amount of time the animal remains outside. As if these rules weren’t lenient enough, the only evidence the USDA demands in order for a product to receive the free-range stamp is “producer testimonials” — the judicial equivalent of a pinky promise. Overcrowded pig pens, stacks of cramped chicken cages and otherwise abusive environments where animals never see the outdoors  — a more common practice — wouldn’t qualify as free range. But allow these animals a few minutes to walk in the dirt outside of the pen, and you’ve got the USDA’s stamp of approval.

Free range in the context of eggs is a meaningless marketing term, since there are no official USDA regulations regarding this product. The term free range in reference to livestock is also unregulated. 

The term “certified organic” has the same pathetic standard for outside access, and products can still claim this title when participating in the ghastly — but unfortunately common — practices of beak cutting and forced molting (shedding of the feathers) through starvation. Beak cutting, also known as beak trimming or debeaking, involves cutting off the beak of poultry with a hot blade, often without anesthetic. The practice is done to prevent poultry from injuring or eating one another, which is all the more likely when chicken cages are overlapping.

Putting aside the actual killing for food, applying this treatment to a dog or a cat would undoubtedly be labeled animal abuse under legal and moral standards. 

Do we draw this line because we need these animals for food? On the contrary, our food resources would dramatically increase with a switch to meat-free diets — and the environment would be much better off for it, too. According to researchers at Oregon State University, 70 percent of grain in the United States is fed to animals that are used for food. An important context for this statistic is the fact that this grain is grown specifically to feed animals in factory farms, which don’t have access to natural resources themselves. Cows grazing in pastures would actually be a much more efficient use of resources, since they would convert into a consumer product indigestible to humans. But most cows bred for consumption aren’t allowed a natural diet. 

Although it’s difficult to precisely measure something as varied as animal metabolism, researchers have found that it takes about seven pounds of feed to produce one pound of beef. Other types of meat are also inefficient: more than three pounds of feed produces one pound of pork and a little under two pounds of feed creates a pound of chicken. 

The only way it could be argued that eating animals is an efficient use of resources is by considering the portion of animal feed that is composed of products humans would otherwise never eat: diseased animal meat, feathers, hair, skin, hooves, blood, plastics, manure, drugs and chemicals. This might very well be the case, but I’m not so sure this is a more favorable outcome. 

As if this weren’t inefficient enough, data from the World Bank shows that the livestock industry produces between 18 and 51 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions — not to mention its contribution to deforestation and water pollution. 

Isolating all these reasons used to defend the consumption of animal products, one is forced to confront the contradiction that comes from abhorring animal abuse as selectively as we do.

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