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Archive for July, 2011

Foodies vs. Darwin: How Meat Eaters Ignore Science

http://www.theatlantic.com/life/archive/2011/05/foodies-vs-darwin-how-meat-eaters-ignore-science/239127/

By James McWilliams

Cooking and savoring animals used to be acceptable—but then came evolution, genetics, and the study of non-human thought

“No age has ever been more solicitous to animals, more curious and caring,” writes Matthew Scully in Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. “Yet no age,” he continues, “has ever inflicted upon animals such massive punishments with such complete disregard.”

Scully highlights one of the more troubling paradoxes at the core of modern life. Humanity proves its love for animals on a daily basis. We lavish an abundance of affection on companion animals, work tirelessly to protect endangered species, and donate generously to shelters and welfare organizations.

At the same time, we treat animals with unfathomable disdain. We wear them, experiment upon them, hunt them, render them into cosmetics, and, most notably, eat them. Making matters even more disturbing, we rationalize all this behavior as perfectly normal. It’s just the way of the world, red in tooth and claw.

What if we discussed the moral and legal rights of animals with the same level of detail we bring to discussion about where to find the best prosciutto?

Humans are the only animals capable of untangling this paradox. To be sure, non-human animals possess innumerable skills that we lack, but—as far as we know—they don’t have the cognitive gifts to think abstractly about relationships among species. For us to ignore this challenge would be a grave failure. Unfortunately, the most influential voices in the so-called “food movement,” concerned as they are with both taste and sustainability, disagree, even though they are in a position to push this paradox to the center of public debate. They view the ethics of slaughter as an issue best to avoid.

What, after all, is to be gained by questioning one of humanity’s most habitual acts? What benefit is there in alienating one’s loyal base of omnivore followers? Why muddy the waters when you can win friends and influence palates with the latest brisket rub? With few exceptions, popular explorations of meat production and consumption studiously skirt the essential concerns underscoring our ingrained habit of killing animals to satisfy our tastes.

Sure, food writers trip all over each other to express their righteous outrage over the many evils of factory farming. Wonderful. But not a single one has decided to take a shot at reconciling their outrage—an outrage that ipso facto acknowledges that an animal has inherent worth—with their promotion of heirloom birds, grass-fed beef, and fried pork bellies cut to perfection by “artisanal” butchers.

The fact is, what’s being butchered here is logic. Thinking, talking, and writing about meat almost necessarily evokes a wildly emotional response (just read the comments on my posts). But what’s required right now isn’t emotion, but reason. The food movement has taught us to doggedly investigate every facet of our food system. This noble imperative has led to an admirable increase in public awareness about the source and quality of everything we eat. But our collective effort to vet the food system of any and all abuse ironically slams on the brakes when reason get too close to the brink of animal rights.

Nonetheless, I wonder what we might discover if, somehow or other, we careened over the edge and seriously explored, in the popular press, the ethics of animal exploitation. What if we discussed the moral and legal rights of animals with the same level of detail we bring to discussion about where to find the best prosciutto?

Perhaps the most intellectually jarring conclusion we might reach is that our current philosophical justification for dominating the non-human world is embarrassingly antiquated. In fact, it’s rooted in ancient ideas that ignore both Darwin and the science of genetics.

As Paul Waldau reminds us in Animal Rights: What Everyone Needs to Know, it was Aristotle who, more than 2,000 years ago, codified a rigid typology of life based on a fundamental distinction between humans and animals. His typology was with the book of Genesis. In the Aristotelian worldview, humans transcended an atomized sub-human world in which every species served a distinct role in the service of humankind. Under Aristotle and the Old Testament, using animals was more than okay; it was our cosmological duty. “Nature,” Aristotle wrote in Politics, “has made all animals for the sake of man.” For Christians, of course, that role belonged to God.

But Darwin and Mendel, with their theories of evolution and genetics, put an end to this self-serving fantasy of dominion. They did so not only by scientifically situating humans in the same category as non-humans (animals), but by undermining the assumption that humans, as Waldau puts it, are “the pinnacle of and reason for creation.” Today, enlightened neo-Darwinists embrace the idea that shared genetic heritage—and often profoundly similar genetic structure—between humans and non-human species confirms the interrelatedness and continuum of all animal life. And this, as I see it, changes everything.

When humans and non-human animals are part of a continuum, rather than qualitatively distinct forms of life, human meat-eaters confront a serious quandary. It becomes incumbent upon us to forge a contemporary justification for carnivorous behavior. Aristotle and Genesis will no longer do. By undermining the long-held basis of inherent human superiority over non-human animals, the science of evolution obliterated the framework within which thoughtful carnivores long justified their behavior. As it now stands, human meat-eaters, unless they reject modern science, support the killing of non-human animals without the slightest intellectual or ethical grounding.

Embedded within this Darwinian turn is a closely related development. Whereas humans have historically assumed their superiority over non-human animals on the basis of our supposedly unique ability to think and feel, the field of cognitive ethology—the study of non-human animal minds—is making it virtually impossible to maintain this stance. As the evolutionary biologist Marc Bekoff says in The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Expanding our Compassion Footprint, we “consistently underestimate what animals know, do, think, and feel.”

Examples of animal intelligence, consciousness, and thoughtfulness abound. When cognitive ethologists discover that (to name only a few cases) Caledonian crows are better tool-makers than chimpanzees, or that monkeys teach their children to floss, or that magpies can recognize themselves in a mirror, we can no longer blithely dismiss animals as driven by “pure instinct.” To the contrary, we have an obligation to contemplate the fact that non-human animals (especially higher ones) make conscious choices, experience genuine emotion, and might even (as in the case of elephants) have the mental and emotional wherewithal to seek revenge. In short, they have interests. To reject these findings—findings that have been fully established with relatively little investigation—would be, as Terry Tempest Williams puts it, “the ultimate act of solipsism.” Humans would be the ones following instinct—the deep-down instinct that says we’re inherently superior.

Admittedly, a systemic analysis of animal rights can be an extremely disorientating experience. Questioning the basis of animal exploitation bears directly on virtually every aspect of our lives: what we wear, eat, apply to our skin and hair, and so on. To duck these issues—to steer clear of any confrontation with Darwin, Mendel, or the field of cognitive ethology—is not only intellectually disingenuous. It denies to the billions of animals we kill every year a fair assessment of why we treat them as we do.

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Posted by ARAN member, Brian Ellis

Here are some statistics, from various sources, that I have compiled on companion animal overpopulation. Please print this out, e-mail it, or otherwise distribute this information. Thanks to all the sources who have made this information accessible on their websites.

Shelters euthanize 3 – 4 million cats and dogs a year in the U.S. (according to 2006 Humane Society of the United States estimates – HSUS.org).

That’s more than 250,000 animals a month, to put that in perspective, the population of my hometown, Lincoln, NE is about 250,000 people. In addition to the animals euthanized yearly at animal shelters it is a fair estimate to say that just as many animals die on the streets due to disease, injury, starvation or dehydration – based on my experience as a licensed veterinary technician who worked for several years in an animal shelter.

The Humane Society of the United States’ estimates are more conservative than other estimates. The American Humane Association’s estimates put the number of animals euthanized by shelters yearly at 9.6 million. Their estimates are extrapolated from a 1997 survey by the National Council on Pet Population (http://www.petpopulation.org). In that survey only 1000 of the estimated 4000 shelters in the U.S. responded.

This is from the American Humane Association’s website:

National euthanasia statistics are difficult to pinpoint because animal care and control agencies are not uniformly required to keep statistics on the number of animals taken in, adopted, euthanized, or reclaimed. While many shelters know the value of keeping statistics, no national reporting structure exists to make compiling national statistics on these figures possible. It is from these numbers that we estimated what is occurring nationwide. It is widely accepted that 9.6 million animals are euthanized annually in the United States.

More statistics:

For every 1 person born in the U.S. there are 15 dogs and 45 cats born (HSUS estimate).

Number of cats and dogs entering shelters each year:
6-8 million (HSUS estimate)

Number of cats and dogs euthanized by shelters each year:
3-4 million (HSUS estimate) based on my experience I would estimate more than half of these animals are healthy, with no behavior or temperament problems.

Number of cats and dogs adopted from shelters each year:
3-4 million (HSUS estimate)

Number of cats and dogs reclaimed by owners from shelters each year: Between 600,000 and 750,000 – 30% of dogs and 2-5% of cats entering shelters (HSUS estimate)

Number of animal shelters in the United States: Between 4,000 and 6,000 (HSUS estimate)

Percentage of dogs in shelters who are purebred: 25% (HSUS estimate)

Based on my experience and local humane society statistics I would estimate that about 2/3 of the animals that most shelters take in are strays, the other 1/3 are relinquished by guardians.

Only 15 – 16% of pet owners adopt their pets (cats and dogs) from animal shelters. (2005 – 2006 American Pet Products Manufacturers Association National Pet Owners Survey) Imagine how many animals would be saved if more people adopted from shelters.

Over $2 billion is spent annually by local governments to shelter and ultimately destroy 8-10 million adoptable dogs and cats due of shortage of homes. (Business Wire Features)

Capital Humane Society Statistics – 2006:

Total dogs sheltered: 3,603

Dogs adopted out: 24.40%

Dogs euthanized: 35.19% (1,261 dogs, average of 4 euthanized a day)

Dogs reclaimed: 38.91%

Dogs DOA: 1.61%

Total cats sheltered: 4,035

Cats adopted out: 17.70%

Cats euthanized: 73.80% (2,985 cats, average of 8 euthanized a day)

Cats reclaimed: 4.91%

Cats DOA: 2.95%

Dog and Cat Reproduction:

Average number of litters a fertile cat can produce in one year: 3

Average number of kittens in a feline litter: 4-6

Average number of litters a fertile dog can produce in one year: 2

Average number of puppies in a canine litter: 6-10

In seven years an unspayed female cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 kittens and an unspayed female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 puppies.

The Top Ten Reasons for Pet Relinquishment to Shelters in the United States (National Council on Pet Population and Study – http://www.petpopulation.org)

Dogs

1. Moving
2. Landlord issues
3. Cost of pet maintenance
4. No time for pet
5. Inadequate facilities
6. Too many pets in home
7. Pet illness(es)
8. Personal problems
9. Biting
10. No homes for littermates

Cats

1. Too many in house
2. Allergies
3. Moving
4. Cost of pet maintenance
5. Landlord issues
6. No homes for littermates
7. House soiling
8. Personal problems
9. Inadequate facilities
10. Doesn’t get along with other pets

What You Can Do:

Spay and neuter your pets and encourage others to do the same. Tell them why it is important.

Keep Identification on your animals and encourage others to do the same. Every pet should have an RFID (microchip) as a back-up.

If you are looking to adopt a companion animal, adopt from an animal shelter, NOT from a pet store or breeder.

Inform and educate other people about companion animal overpopulation

Pick pets that are right for your needs. For example, a family with small children should not adopt a shy or fearful Chihuahua, a young person with little time should adopt a cat or a pocket pet not a pit-bull puppy.

Support legislation that helps animals. Recently there was a law passed in Nebraska that made it harder for puppy mills to operate.

Volunteer or donate to the local humane society.

Only adopt companion animals if you are ready for a long-term commitment. Taking care of animals costs money and will take up a good amount of your time…it is much like having children.

Some of the Benefits of Adopting an Animal from a Shelter

Pets from shelters are already spayed or neutered

They also receive their initial vaccinations and have been dewormed and treated for external parasites (fleas, ticks, etc.), and tested for heartworm disease.

All adoptable pets at shelters have been screened for behavior and temperament issues.

Animals for adoption have been examined by a veterinarian to ensure their health

The cost of adoption is much less (often 5X or more less) than what it would cost to vaccinate, spay/neuter, and de-worm a “free” pet

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Posted by ARAN member, Brian Ellis

The following letter was published in the November 23rd, 2010 issue of the University of Nebraska Newspaper, The Daily Nebraskan; about 2 weeks after it was published, the letter, and all links to it were removed from the site (typically, letters to the editor remain permanently in the site archives). When I inquired about its removal I was ignored. I presume the letter was censored by higher ups at the University of Nebraska, which is heavily invested in corporate factory farming – which Humanewatch exists to protect.

Dear Editor,

In the November 18th issue of the Daily Nebraskan, Jake Geis wrote an article that was extremely critical of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). In this article, Geis (ironically a second year veterinary student) parrots the specious arguments of Humanewatch.org – a Center for Consumer Freedom front group. The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) is a propaganda group for hire that receives millions in corporate “donations” as payment for smearing groups which they feel may hurt their bottom line. CCF has created dozens of these offshoot “front” groups in order to run smear campaigns against public interest groups like: Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) when they were hired by the liquor industry to oppose MADD’s work toward blood alcohol limits; the Center for Science in the Public Interest when hired by the fast food industry to downplay the negative health effects of trans-fats and obesity; the Center for Disease Control (CDC) when hired by the seafood industry in an attempt to discredit the CDC’s claims about the dangers of mercury in seafood; organized labor as a whole through its front groups Center for Union Facts and Employee Freedom Action Committee – in order to defend low wages; and now they have been hired by big agribusiness corporations in order to slander groups that propose animal welfare and environmental standards – standards which corporations feel would hurt their multi-billion dollar profit margins.

Humanewatch and CCF were created by Richard Berman, a Washington D.C. lobbyist, with the help of a $600,000 grant from the Phillip Morris Tobacco Corporation to fight anti-smoking groups. Humanewatch is listed by the IRS as a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, but this “non-profit” funnels 92% of its multi-million dollar corporate “donations” into Berman’s PR firm Berman & Company. By exploiting this legal loophole Berman is able to forego transparency standards for non-profits and acquire all of these millions of dollars as tax-free profits.

CCF’s groups are notorious for their cunning sophistry, often framing issues in a way that makes their arguments seem sound and rational – unfortunately Geis falls right into this trap. The Humanewatch claim about HSUS allocating only 1% of its donations to local shelters is a clear example of this. HSUS has never purported to be connected to local shelters or to fund them, on their website they state very clearly: “Local humane societies and SPCAs are independent entities and are not run by The HSUS or any other national entity. The HSUS works with local humane societies and supports their work through training, evaluations, publications, and other professional services. Additionally, The HSUS operates its own network of animal sanctuaries and rescue operations, providing emergency care and homes to more animals than any other organization in the United States.” It should be noted that the first humane societies were set up to promote the welfare of the most vulnerable – children (this aspect was eventually phased out as other child advocacy groups took over) and animals, i.e. they were welfare organizations which advocated for and were concerned with the treatment of all animals, they did not focus solely on sheltering lost or unwanted companion animals – a tradition which the HSUS has continued. Today’s humane societies exist primarily as companion animal shelters, set up in order to contain the perennial companion animal overpopulation problem – they do little to no animal welfare advocacy other than companion animal spay/neuter and vaccination programs; this leaves the majority of the animals in the US – “food animals” without representation, besides the HSUS.

Geis goes on to site a news broadcast by WSB-TV, an Atlanta ABC affiliate, as evidence of HSUS wrongdoing concerning Hurricane Katrina donations, but again, he fails to check his sources; in this case the TV station realized that they had been given bogus information by Humanewatch – in response they immediately issued a televised correction, pulled the footage, and wrote a “cease and desist” letter to Humanewatch who was posting the copied video without permission and without the correction. CCF’s Humanewatch has continuously stooped to outright lying in order to smear animal welfare groups such as HSUS – they were even forced to issue a formal retraction after falsely accusing HSUS of funding international terrorism. Geis makes many other claims in his article, some are unintentionally comical, like when he refers to a modest California animal welfare initiative (which set standards that would allow animals the room to stand up, turn around and stretch their wings/limbs) as “anti-meat”; an official HSUS rebuttal of all of these CCF-dervied claims can be viewed here: http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/opposition/misc/hsus_responds_to_ccf.html.

Nebraskans who care about animal welfare should be aware that there is a corporate-funded disinformation campaign being waged against groups and individuals that put lives over corporate profits and should therefore be extremely discerning when it comes to where they obtain their information.

Sincerely,

Brian Ellis, Licensed Veterinary Technician

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Posted by ARAN member, Brian Ellis

Someone recently asked me (in a somewhat rude way) why I have this written on my Facebook Profile: “I urge everyone who cares about animals to spay and neuter their companion animals; boycott pet stores and breeders – only adopt from humane societies or animal shelters; and give a vegetarian, or even better, a vegan diet a try.”

My response:

While working at the local humane society I personally euthanized (killed using the most painless method available) thousands of healthy companion animals (cats, dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits, rats, snakes, reptiles, birds, etc.). These animals died because there are not enough homes for them. Meanwhile, independent breeders and those that supply pet stores continue to bring more and more companion animals into the world, in order to sell them for profit.

This is absolutely senseless and if more people knew what happened behind the doors of all the animal shelters all over the world, breeding would be illegal. In the US alone shelters euthanize 3 – 4 million cats and dogs, each year. See more here: http://brianpellis.blogspot.com/2009/03/companion-animal-overpopulation.html

I would honestly suggest working at a shelter if you want to get a better perspective on this issue. After you have to inject poison into the veins of a puppy because the shelter is full, I think you will change your mind. And if you think euthanasia is always painless and easy, you are mistaken. The procedure can easily be botched if the animal is frightened and uncooperative – which many of them are. Many of them can sense that something is wrong.

As for the last part of my statement – a vegan diet is the best way to save animals in your everyday life. All of the animals that die to become food for you may not be as cute as your dog or cat but they feel pain and experience terror just the same. Most of the meat and dairy products in this country come from animals reared on factory farms, which are notorious for their abysmal conditions. These animals suffer every moment of their short lives, I know because I have seen it with my own eyes. Plus, since you can be just as healthy (if not more so) on a plant-based diet there is no way to rationally justify killing animals for food. If you still feel like you need some animal products to be healthy, consider eating eggs from companion hens.

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Submitted by ARAN member, Brian Ellis

I was recently working on this question for the Animal Rights Advocates of Nebraska FAQ. The answer I provided turned out to be way too long winded for the FAQ but I felt that the “long answer” deserved to be posted somewhere for those who were curious to know more. Here is that long answer:

No, they do not. Plants lack brains or nervous systems of any kind so they are unable to perceive or feel anything, though they do react biochemically in complex and fascinating ways to stimuli. In addition, from an evolutionary perspective it does not make sense for plants to feel pain since they are unable move away from a negative stimulus.

But even if it were the case that plants could feel pain or think, veganism would still make sense. The animal agriculture industry utilizes most of the world’s plant crops as animal feed, and less food energy is returned to the world in the animal’s carcasses than went into nourishing them. So, even in this hypothetical scenario, the best way to protect all life would be to consume plants only.

Occasionally vegans or vegetarians will get this question – sometimes in seriousness, sometimes in jest (in an attempt to dismiss or make light of our ethical obligation to non-human animals). Those that are serious often cite that they have heard about studies that show that plants remember or feel. This is not surprising since several pseudoscientific books and articles have been published on the subject of supposed plant sentience. In addition, many “pop science” websites and magazines have featured articles with titles like “Plants ‘can think and remember’”. Pop science or popular science is a way of presenting scientific information in a way that most people can understand, which, is a good thing, but unfortunately, sometimes this information is presented in an over-simplified manner which can be misleading. Also, pop science is sometimes written by non-scientists who do not have a full understanding of the subject they are presenting, which can lead to the unintentional spreading of misinformation. The article mentioned above was written for BBC News in 2010 and used the terms “think” and “remember” in quotation marks to indicate that this was a metaphorical device but not many of the site’s readers picked up on it. Soon, the article was being posted all around the internet as evidence of plant intelligence and awareness. For more on this see: http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=plants-cannot-think-and-remember-bu-2010-07-16

The most popular of the pseudoscientific books on the subject of plant sentience is a book published in 1973 by Peter Tomkins and Christopher Bird, entitled the “Secret Life of Plants”. This book was subsequently made into a documentary of the same name. The authors of the book were not trained scientists and were also well known for their interest in pseudoscience: investigation of the “paranormal” and the occult. Their book has been widely discredited by real scientists as new age sophistry. Other well known charlatans have claimed to have found evidence of plant sentience, among them L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, who would hook up plants to his e-meter (basically an electrical resistance meter). After performing “research” with his e-meter, he claimed tomatoes “scream when sliced”. His work has also been dismissed as nonsense by the scientific community.

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by ARAN member, Brian Ellis

Many religious traditions, through their prescriptions for ritual animal sacrifice, have caused outright harm to animals or have otherwise been detrimental to the cause of animal welfare/rights. Although there are religions that are mostly conducive to animal welfare, such as Jainism and some sects of Buddhism, and there are individuals which advocate animal liberation in all the world’s religions, overall, religion has reinforced speciesism and mistreatment of non-human animals.

Animal Sacrifice

Throughout history animal sacrifice has been practiced by many different religions, e.g. Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Santeria, certain ancient and modern pagan sects, various “cults”, ancient Greek and Roman religion, etc. Of all the world’s religions the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have the most scriptural content relating to ritual animal sacrifice; for this reason I will be focusing on these religions in particular. The Christian Bible’s Old Testament (derived from the Hebrew Bible) is filled with hundreds of passages describing or commanding animal sacrifice. In the Old Testament animals are sacrificed to vicariously atone for sins, unclean acts, or for no reason other than to please or make peace with Yahweh, who, we are told, enjoys the smell of burning flesh. The blood of the animal sacrificed is usually to be sprinkled on God’s altar and for a “burnt offering” the flesh and innards are to be separated and burnt accordingly “for a sweet savor unto the lord”.

In Exodus each Jewish family is to slaughter a lamb and smear the blood on their door so their god will see the blood and “pass over” these homes without killing their firstborns along with the firstborn children of the Egyptians – which gives us the name of the holiday, Passover. Some Jewish sects such as the Samaritans still observe the Passover slaughter of lambs and the bizarre ritual of smearing blood on doors. For further examples of animal sacrifice in the Bible read any of the books of the Old Testament, particularly Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. There are also a couple of passages in the Bible that directly deal with human sacrifice: Judges 11:29-40 (Here Jephthah sacrifices his daughter as a burnt offering), Genesis 22:9-18 (This is the almost-sacrifice of Isaac interrupted by God, which can be described as nothing less than psychological torture).

Besides Jesus’ parents sacrifice of two turtledoves in Luke 2:24, the Christian Bible’s New Testament is mostly void of animal sacrifice. This is largely due to its emphasis on the human sacrifice of Jesus (the sacrificial “lamb of god”). The New Testament teaches that Christians no longer must sacrifice animals to god because god has been sufficiently appeased by the sacrifice of his son and/or (depending on your interpretation of the trinity doctrine) the human embodiment of himself. Christians do not usually include animal sacrifice as part of their worship but there are a few contemporary Christian churches that practice animal sacrifice, such as the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Christian Church of God.

Hundreds of thousands of animals are sacrificed during Eid ul-Adha, a religious holiday celebrated by Muslims. This holiday is celebrated on the 3rd day of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim must make at least once in their lifetime, the fifth pillar of Islam. The sacrifice of an animal is performed to celebrate Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, to Allah and Allah’s mercy as expressed by offering an animal to be sacrificed in the place of Ibrahim’s son. At the same time these sacrifices are performed at the Hajj they are also carried out by other Muslims around the world. Traditionally the Hajj pilgrims would personally slaughter an animal by cutting the throat, but today many pilgrims purchase vouchers and have a butcher sacrifice the animal for them. The Hindu festival, Gadhimai, is probably the world’s largest animal sacrifice. This festival takes place every 5 years in Nepal. In 2009 over 250,000 animals were sacrificed. [http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/24/hindu-sacrifice-gadhimai-festival-nepal]

Anachronistic Slaughtering Methods

Kashrut (Jewish dietary law) and Islamic dietary law require animals to be slaughtered according to the methods described in their sacred texts. These slaughter methods are known as shechita in Judaism and dhabiha or zabihah in Islam. Meat from animals slaughtered according to these methods is called kosher meat in Judaism and halal (acceptable) meat in Islam. In addition to forbidding the consumption of meat from certain types of animals and prescribing other details about how the slaughter should be performed, both kashrut and Islamic dietary laws dictate that animals must be killed by exsanguination (death by blood loss) while fully conscious. Exsanguination in both shechita and dhabiha slaughter is achieved by severing the carotid arteries, jugular veins, trachea and esophagus with a non-serrated blade (the spinal cord is not to be severed because this could cause cardiac arrest and stop the flow of blood).

These methods of slaughter cause an agonizing death because the animal is not allowed to be anesthetized or stunned in any way, and due to the fact that the animal is not rendered unconscious immediately from the severing of the arteries and veins in the neck. After the throat is sliced the animal writhes about in a hopeless attempt to escape and tries to vocalize; death may come in less than half a minute or take as long as several minutes depending on the cut made by the slaughterer. This method of slaughter is outdated and causes unnecessary pain. There are methods available today, such as the captive bolt-gun, which (when used correctly) renders the animal unconscious immediately. Both Islam and Judaism call for this method of slaughter because both religions believe consuming blood is a sin, but what is unknown or ignored by most Jews and Muslims is that it is impossible to remove all the blood from an animal’s body and the capillaries will invariably retain some blood that is, therefore, consumed when eating the meat. The Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) has stated that “the method by which kosher and halal meat is produced causes severe suffering to animals and it should be banned immediately.” According to the FAWC “it can take up to two minutes for cattle to bleed to death, thus amounting to animal abuse.” [BBC: Should Kosher and Halal Meat be Banned?]

Teaching Human Supremacy

Most of the world’s religions teach human exceptionalism: the idea that humans are not animals – that they are superior beings and therefore more deserving of kind treatment and respect. The Abrahamic religions in particular state that some animals are unclean, disgusting or deserving of contempt. For example, in many areas there is nothing worse to call a Muslim than a “pig”, as that animal is regarded as the very epitome of that which is unclean or haram.

Many religions believe in dominionism: the view that animals were put on Earth, by god, specifically to be used by humans. In Genesis 1:26 KJV, the Bible states: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” This passage teaches us that humans are made in the likeness of gods (or god and other lesser supernatural beings depending on your interpretation) and that we are given dominion or reign over other animals. This passage alone has allowed many people to rationalize their cruel treatment of animals, whether it be vivisection, sport hunting, or inhumane farming and slaughter practices.

Religious apologists will often argue that dominion does not mean we can treat animals poorly. They also claim that their holy books advocate kind stewardship of animals, but ritual sacrifice is not kind stewardship, and neither is severing an animals throat so it can slowly bleed to death, especially when there are more humane alternatives available (not to mention the fact that meat consumption is not necessary for human survival – hundreds of thousands of people have adopted vegetarian and vegan diets and are just as healthy, if not more so, than their omnivorous counterparts).

Many religious persons believe in the concept of a human soul – a vague immaterial force that supposedly lingers after death – a concept that (according to traditional religious dogma) does not apply to animals. This idea that humans possess souls while animals lack them is just another example of the belief in human superiority, and many religionists feel this lack of a soul justifies their lesser treatment of animals. One would think that the belief that animals are without souls, and that this life is all they have, would be even more reason to ensure they are able to enjoy their one and only life free from suffering, but this does not seem to be the case.

The truth is that humans are animals and all sentient (capable of experiencing pain/pleasure and perception) animals are deserving of kind treatment and respect. A naturalistic worldview makes this extremely clear while religion has mostly served to reinforce anthropocentrism and alienate us from the creatures with whom we share the planet.

To witness the horror of kosher slaughter go here: http://www.petatv.com/tvpopup/GetVideo.asp?video=agri_short
WARNING VERY GRAPHIC

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Favorite Quotes

“I believe I am not interested to know whether Vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or doesn’t. To know that the results are profitable to the race would not remove my hostility to it. The pains which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity towards it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further.” – Mark Twain

“Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.”
-Albert Schweitzer

“Animal factories are one more sign of the extent to which our technological capacities have advanced faster than our ethics.” -Peter Singer

“The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but rather, “Can they suffer?”
– Jeremy Bentham

“There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher animals in their mental faculties… The lower animals, like man, manifestly feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery.”
– Charles Darwin

“Until we have the courage to recognize cruelty for what it is – whether its victim is human or animal – we cannot expect things to be much better in this world… We cannot have peace among men whose hearts delight in killing any living creature. By every act that glorifies or even tolerates such moronic delight in killing we set back the progress of humanity. ”
– Rachel Carson

“When a man has pity on all living creatures then only is he noble.”
– Buddha

“All the arguments to prove man’s superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering the animals are our equals.” – Peter Singer

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the ’Universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” – Albert Einstein

“Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” – Albert Einstein

“Those who claim to care about the well-being of human beings and the preservation of our environment should become vegetarians for that reason alone. They would thereby increase the amount of grain available to feed people elsewhere, reduce pollution, save water and energy, and cease contributing to the clearing of forests. When nonvegetarians say that “human problems come first” I cannot help wondering what exactly it is that they are doing for human beings that compels them to continue to support the wasteful, ruthless exploitation of farm animals.” – Peter Singer

“A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral.” – Leo Tolstoy

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