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4 April 1999 Issue

Don't Plants Have Feelings Too?
by United Poultry Concerns

Responding Effectively to 13 Frequently Asked Questions About
Food, Fiber, Farm Animals, and the Ethics of Diet

1. What about plants? Don't plants have feelings too?
It is very possible that plants have sensitivities that we do not yet understand.
Because plants do not have nervous systems and cannot run away from
predators, it has generally been assumed that they do not experience pain
and suffering. Recent scientific evidence suggests that this assumption may
be incorrect. However, we do know that birds and other nonhuman verte-
brates have well-developed nervous systems and pain receptors the same
as humans. Like us, they show pleasure and pain and they present
comparable evidence of fear and well-being. Animals cry out in pain, they
nurse wounded body parts, and they seek to avoid those who have hurt
them in the past.

In order to live, one has to eat. However, when we eat animal products, we
consume many more plants indirectly than if we ate those plants directly,
because the animals we eat are fed huge quantities of grasses, grains, and
seeds to be converted into meat, milk, and eggs. As a vegan (one who eats
no animal products) you cause fewer beings to suffer and die for you.

2. What will we do with all the animals if we stop eating them?
Won't they overrun the earth?
Farm animals will not overrun the earth if we stop eating them because we
will no longer intentionally breed them as we do now. Parent flocks and
herds are deliberately maintained by artificial insemination, genetic selec-
tion, bizarre lighting schedules and other manipulations to force them to
produce billions of offspring each year. This inflated population will fade as
people stop eating animal products. In time, as David Gabbe states in Why
Do Vegetarians Eat Like That?, "Farm animals could be left to fend for
themselves; some would make out fine, others would struggle to keep from
becoming extinct. But, like all animals (except humans), they would adjust
their numbers in accordance with the conditions around them."

In the meantime, we have to remember that we, not they, are responsible
for their predicament. We have an obligation to find ways to ease the
transitional period for these animals.

3. Farm animals have been bred for domestication. Haven't they lost
their natural instincts? They can't survive on their own, can they?
If we stop providing for them, won't they die of starvation and failure
to reproduce?
On the one hand we're afraid that farm animals will overrun the earth. On the
other hand we worry that they'll become extinct. Feral chickens, pigs, and
other farm animals ("feral" refers to domesticated animals who have become
self-sustaining again) successfully resume their natural activities given the
chance: they forage, graze, mate, raise their young, socialize and get along
very well without humans. Farm animals are much more autonomous and
resilient than is commonly supposed. Otherwise, it is better for creatures
afflicted with human-created defects not to be born. People who think it is
all right to imprison animals in genetically-impaired bodies and who then get
testy about their becoming extinct, are indulging in cynicism and sentimen-
tality. Call their bluff and move on to other issues.

4. Is confinement so terrible? After all, farmers protect their animals
from bad weather and predators and provide them with food, water
and shelter. Isn't that better than being in the wild?
Slave traders and slaveholders argued that it was better to be a slave in a
"civilized, Christian" society than to be at liberty in a heathen jungle. This
same rationalization is used to justify expropriating and subjugating other
species. Producers tell the public that farm animals prefer "three meals a
day" to a life in the wild. In fact, the "wild" is a human projection onto areas
of the earth and modes of being that are alien and inhospitable to our
species. The wild isn't "wild" to the animals who live there. It is their home.
Animals in wall-to-wall confinement are forced to live in a situation that
expresses human nature, not theirs. If they preferred to be packed together
without contact with the world outside, then we would not need intensive
physical confinement facilities, since they would voluntarily cram together
and save us money.

It is illogical to argue that humans protect farm animals from "predators."
We are their predator. Moreover, by confining them we subject them to
many more nonhuman predators in the form of parasites and other disease
organisms than they would otherwise encounter. By locking them up, we
prevent them from using their natural flight/fight abilities, so that when a
predator (such as the farmer) comes along, they cannot escape. Millions
more animals die of heat stress and other climactic conditions in intensive
confinement facilities than they would in nature. The inability of confined
farm animals to exercise their natural defenses and self-assertion induces
pathological stress leading to immune-system breakdown. Only by twisted
standards can apathy and atrophy be regarded as benefiting an animal.

5. If farm animals are treated as badly as you say, why are they so
productive? Wouldn't they stop producing meat, milk and eggs if
they were treated inhumanely?
Farm animals can be profoundly mistreated and still "produce," in the same
way that profoundly mistreated humans can be overweight, sexually active
and able to produce offspring. Like humans, farm animals can "adapt," up
to a point, to living in slums and concentration camp conditions. Is this an
argument for slums and concentration camps? Farm animals do not gain
weight, lay eggs, and produce milk because they are comfortable, content,
or well-cared for, but because they have been manipulated specifically to do
these things through genetics, medications, and management techniques.
For example, cage layer producers artificially stimulate and extend egg
production by keeping the lights burning for 16 or 17 hours a day to force
the hen's pituitary gland to secrete increased quantities of the hormone that
activates the ovary.

Animals in production agriculture are slaughtered at extremely young ages,
before disease and death have decimated them as would otherwise happen
even with all the drugs. Even so, many more individual animals suffer and
die in intensive farming, but because the volume of animals being used is so
big--in the billions--the losses are economically negligible, while the volume
of flesh, milk and eggs is abnormally increased.

6. What difference does it make how we treat farm animals -- they're
going to die anyway, aren't they?
The fact that giving farm animals a decent life before killing them can be
seriously questioned represents an important reason to stop raising them
for food. It is not that they are going to die anyway that seems to justify our
mistreatment of them when they are alive--we are all going to die but we do
not generalize the argument--but that we are deliberately going to kill them.
There is a felt inconsistency in valuing a creature so little and yet insisting
that he or she be granted a semblance of tolerable existence prior to
execution. So wanton can our disrespect for our victims become that any
churlish sentiment or behavior seems fit to exercise. It is contemptible to
assert that humans have no responsibility, or that it makes no sense, to
enrich the life of a being brought into the world merely to suffer and die
for us. The situation confers greater, rather than lesser, or no, obligations
on us towards those at our mercy.

7. Yes, but didn't God give humans dominion over all the other animals?
If so, what's wrong with raising them for food and killing them as long
as we treat them humanely while they're still alive?
Some people believe that the Creator gave humanity "dominion" over other
life. Others see the idea of "dominion" as an assertion of human ego in
conflict with true spirituality and common sense. One way or other, a loving
God does not authorize humanity to degrade, insult, and terrorize the other
creatures of the earth, any more than people are authorized to bully,
terrorize, and belittle one another. The idea of a gracious human spirit is
expressed in the Christian Bible, for example, where it says, "O,
Jerusalem . . . how often I have longed to gather your children together as
a hen gathers her chicks under her wings" (Matthew 23:37). Like nature,
scripture can be invoked to justify almost anything one wishes to do. Instead
of dwelling on verses that invite us to be pompous and violent, we should
focus on passages and images that instruct us to be peaceful, participating
members of creation.

Most world religions envision a "golden age" when humans lived peaceably
on earth without bloodshed. In Genesis 1:29, God gives to humans "every
herb bearing seed . . . and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree yielding
seed." God says that, for us, these seeds and fruits "shall be meat." The
Biblical image of the Garden of Eden is paralleled by the Classical image
of the Golden Age and by ancient Indian depictions of a peaceable kingdom
on earth.

8. Aren't humans natural meat-eaters? Aren't we omnivores, designed to
eat plants and animals?
Arguments about the true and ancient diet of humanity are largely specula-
tive. Opposition to flesh-eating goes back to antiquity, as shown in Howard
Williams' history, The Ethics of Diet (1883). Records show a traditional
association between certain human cultures throughout the world and a
diet comprising, though not necessarily based on, meat. A vigorous human
lifestyle can sustain some intake of the flesh of vigorous animals. However,
westernized populations are not active by stone age standards, and the
mass-produced animals whose body parts and secretions they consume
are forced to live sedentary lives, in filth and confinement, because natural
activity expends energy that "wastes feed."

There is clear evidence that an animal-based diet causes degenerative
diseases -- actual cases can be cited and actual clogged arteries and
starved internal organs can be viewed every day in the hospital or morgue.
Where is the comparable evidence showing that people living on a varied
plant-based diet suffer, as a result, from calcium, protein, and iron
deficiencies, heart attacks and strokes? Studies currently conducted by Dr.
Dean Ornish and Dr. T. Colin Campbell in the U.S. and China show the
opposite. European travelers in the 18th and 19th centuries marveled at the
vigor and longevity of peasants in Turkey, Russia, South America and
elsewhere: they were amazed that people living on such "impoverished fare"
as rice, beans, millet and potatoes could be so hardy and long-lived. While
there is no evidence that the human body needs animal products, there is
abundant evidence that the human body thrives on a nutritious plant-based
diet.

9. There is no such thing as cruelty-free food! To raise vegetables,
you have to kill animals --"pests" who would otherwise eat up your
crops, like rodents and insects. What's the difference between
directly killing animals for food and killing them to protect crops
and grains?
Assuming that all known methods of harmless self-protection have been
exhausted, there is still a definite difference between defending oneself
from predators (including insects) and deliberately bringing creatures into
the world to suffer and be killed for one's appetites and habits. We kill
bacteria to defend our teeth from decay. Only thoughtlessness considers
this the same as, or a justification for, slaughterhouses and the violence
surrounding them -- castration, debeaking, starvation, force-feeding,
electrical shock, etc.

10. What's wrong with eggs and milk? Eating dairy products and eggs
is not the same as eating animals, is it?
Vegetarians do not eat animals, but, according to the traditional use of
the term, they may choose to consume dairy products and eggs, in which
case they are called lacto-ovo (milk and egg) vegetarians. These distinctions
are essentially academic, as the production of eggs and dairy products
involves enormous killing as does the production of meat. Surplus
cockerels, unwanted calves, "spent" dairy cows and laying fowl have been
slaughtered, bludgeoned, trashed, drowned and ditched through the ages.
Disposing of the "surplus" males by the dairy industry is the basis of the
veal calf industry. The egg industry trashes half the population of birds
born--more than 25O million male chicks--every year.

In fact, dairy products and eggs are every bit as much animal parts as
"meat" (muscle tissue) is. No less than muscles, these parts derive from
and comprise within themselves the physiological, metabolic, and hormonal
activities of an animal's body, and a magnitude of bodily expense. A hen's
egg is a generative cell, or ovum, with a store of food and immunity for an
embryo that, in nature, would normally be growing inside the egg. Milk is the
provision of food and immunity that is produced by the body of a female
mammal for her nursing offspring. Milk, literally, is baby food.

For thousands of years, human beings have manipulated the bodies of
hens and cows in order to extract these body, or baby, parts for themselves.
Now as in the past, the economically "spent" fowl and cow are shipped to
the slaughterhouse when their bodies no longer pay. They endure days of
pre-slaughter starvation and long trips to the slaughterhouse because of
their low carcass value. To be a lacto-ovo vegetarian is not to wash one's
hands of misery and murder.

11. What about jobs? What will happen to all the jobs if people stop
consuming animal products? Are you trying to put people out of
work?
The fear pounded into meat-industry workers about losing their jobs if
people convert to a vegetarian diet locks them into the only fate they know.
As long as people exist, food will have to be produced and someone will
have to produce it for them. Imagine if all those protein-rich soybeans and
other produce now fed to farm animals were harvested directly for people
and turned into everything from burgers to ice cream. Imagine all the jobs!
The huge amount of money that is now being spent to patch up human
bodies ravaged by animal-based diets and to clean up an environment
increasingly polluted by farm animal wastes could be used to retrain workers
and redirect food technologies. As consumers, we can use our enormous
purchasing power to speed technological conversion to the production of
all-vegetarian foods. In retooling, producers will "create their own
competition," hiring just as many workers as before in order to feed the
hungry-as-ever human population.

12. What about human problems? Why concentrate on animals when so
many suffering people need help?
Are Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) badgered with why they are
not working instead for battered women or abused children or some other
cause? Were Americans who fought against slavery attacked for ignoring
the plight of white people? Choosing a particular issue does not mean that
one is indifferent to other concerns. Animal abuse, like child abuse and
spouse abuse, is a human problem. The world that we have made for farm
animals to live in hurts people as well as the animals and offers good
evidence that hardening of the sensibilities is an even worse disease than
hardening of the arteries. As human beings, we have a responsibility to the
victims of our society and our species, whoever and wherever those victims
may be. Every social justice movement in history has been scorned by the
mainstream, which is made up ironically of people whose own freedoms
and rights were won by revolutionaries at an earlier time.

13. Forget about ethics. You'll make a better case for vegetarianism if
you stick to health and environmental issues. Do you honestly think
most people are ever going to care about farm animals?
Some people argue that we should emphasize health, food-safety, and
environmental issues rather than the animals and their plight, because
humans are basically selfish. While it is important to combine these issues
whenever possible, it is a mistake to assume that people cannot or will not
care about their fellow creatures. Just as we owe it to our animal victims to
rescue them from cruel and degrading circumstances, so we owe it to them
to be their voice. To insist that most people will never care about farm
animals is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. A little more than a century
ago, most people "didn't want to hear about" human slaves, either. Many
more people will openly care and move toward change when they feel it is
socially safe. Millions of people have impulses of compassion which have
been stifled by self-doubt and fear of ridicule. Eventually, some of the health
and environmental problems that are caused by an animal-based diet may
be solved or reduced by technology, at least in the short run. Only the ethics
of diet, the pain and suffering, the shared mortality and claims of our fellow
creatures upon us are lasting.

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