Animal Writes
From 7 December 2003 Issue

Humane Care?
By [email protected]

Whenever I pass the neighborhood pet store, I try not to see the puppies who will be sold to anyone who buys them. I know some puppies will be fortunate enough to be sold to loving people but others will be bought by people who have no concept of the inherent value of animals.

They will be sold to people with preconceived notions of what a well bred and perfect dog should be; and they will wind up in a shelter, or destroyed by a private vet, if they fail to meet expectations. Pet stores never fail to remind me of several young dogs who were destroyed because their "owners" (my neighbors) were dissatisfied with them, and so replaced them with a "better dog" within days. So it's easier for me to look away.

But this weekend I was struck by a big sign in the pet store window. It read: "THESE PUPPIES COME ONLY FROM LOVING, CONSCIENTIOUS BREEDERS." Really?

We may be tempted to congratulate ourselves for our effort against puppy mills for it seems to have made its mark on selling dogs, but what that sign doesn't say is that each of these puppies is seriously at risk when sold to an open public. It is only by luck that they will find a loving home.

Certainly, no one can rightfully claim to love these animals when they sell them as a commodity and expose them to this risk.

No one can truly claim they love dogs if they continue to manufacture them while millions are dying in shelters. Big signs and tangential measures are like putting a bandage on a splinter. In reality, it doesn't work.

Yet similar advertising is being used to sell meat with a label that reads: "Certified Humane Raised & Handled". Like the sign in the pet store window, it will appeal to people who are concerned with factory farming but who aren't willing to give much thought to whether this project is realistic. At best it will reduce the suffering of the comparatively few animals raised and slaughtered on participating farms; but if the project reaches the main meat industry as planned, it is unrealistic to believe any such effort could address billions of farm animals.

Factory farms exist not only because agribusiness has taken over family farms, but because billions of meat and dairy consumers require that farm animals outnumber humans by at least 3 to 1. It is impossible to enforce either humane laws or standards nationwide when billions of animals are assembly lined. That is the reality.

In addition, as presented on CBS News, this project will pay the USDA to check if participating farms adhere to their standards.

CBS News | The 'Humane' Seal Of Approval | May 23, 2003

That's right, the same USDA which has ignored the suffering of circus elephants and which claims it cannot control Class B dealers who sell stolen dogs to research. 

Yes, the same USDA which Dateline found negligent in governing puppy mill dealers.

The Animal Trust

The same USDA, forever loyal to industry, that lets meat contaminated with ecoli, salmonella, campylobacter and even deadly listeria pass inspection.

The Meat Recall Sham

The reliability of the USDA checking or enforcing standards hardly seems promising.

And like the sign in the pet store window, this label ignores the bigger question, i.e., What is humane about killing healthy animals, no matter how they are handled? We know that natural predators and some human populations depend on eating other animals in order to survive, and we understand they have no choice. Even so, because predation will always benefit the predator at the ultimate expense to the prey, the first moral consideration is how this benefit compares to the personal cost of the prey's life.

While we always favor less suffering than more, there was a time when animal life was not taken for granted. We've lost touch with our hunter-gatherer ancestry, our cultures which killed to survive but which did not disregard the animal's personal interest in living. So great was the respect for animals that some cultures found spiritual ways to apologize to the animals for harming them.

Now in our affluent societies, we are not bound by the same necessities of survival and it is too easy to disconnect from the animals that become food. We may falsely take for granted that animals exist for our benefit but truly no species exists solely for another. Each species has its own innate protections because each exists for itself. If we choose to eat meat and animal products, it should at least be an honest choice.

I find it disappointing that some animal welfare organizations are endorsing companion animal breeding and so called humane killing. If the fundamental rights of animals are to be recognized, we need an honest and central focus, rather than tangential measures which make it easier to exploit them. These only put a bandage on splinters that need to be removed.

Go on to Drawing New Lines: Activism & Human-Animal Boundaries
Return to 7 December 2003 Issue
Return to Newsletters

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