The plight of pigs

A recent article in the Times outlines the unfortunate plight of the modern pig. According to cattle-rancher Nicole Niman (Aside: in trying to find out whether she's associated with Niman Ranch, Wikipedia directed me to this utterly bizarre article on lightsaber combat. Somewhat relevant to the criticism of Wikipedia that it's heavy on the information that white, tech-savvy males might know and light on other important issues), pigs are kept in metallic cages so tight that they are unable to even turn around. Their tails are cut off without anesthetic. They are not allowed to roam outside of their cages - not even to handle basic functions. Eating, sleeping, urinating and defecating all happen in the same place (the waste drops into a pit just a few feet below their cages). In order to keep the pigs free from sickness, 10 million pounds of antibiotics are added to their feed, three times the total amount used to treat humans.

There's a wide array of thought about animal rights out there. Peter Singer, one of the largest philosophical proponents for animal rights, argues that the right to minimization of suffering is dependent on the ability to suffer. Pigs, which have intelligence comparable to a dog or small child, are certainly smart enough to know that they are unhappy. Niman points out that many of the crated pigs "exhibit behavior characteristic of humans with severe depression or mental illness." Judge Richard Posner, on the other hand, finds that moral intuition says that "it is wrong to give as much weight to a dog's pain as to an infant's pain."

While there is a substantial portion of the population that thinks Singer is on crack (especially in regard to his views on abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia), I think that we may naturally support his view when faced with the reality of what we are doing. While it is easy to rationalize and say that these animals are simply meat to be put on our plates, I think that that ease has less to do with the fact that they are animals and has more to do with the fact that few, if any, of us ever sees how these animals actually live. We don't have to see the pigs living in a warehouse filled with the stench of their own feces. We don't really think about the fact that millions of male chicks are thrown away upon birth, or that their female counterparts have their beaks cut off with a hot knife and are then thrust into cages so overcrowded that corpses routinely remain unobserved. And because we don't have to deal with that, we're shielded from the visceral consequences of what we do. It's the same sort of shielding that lets people write incredibly nasty messages/e-mails/flames that they would never be able to deliver in person.

I don't consider myself to be an animal rights advocate. Certainly, on the list of global problems that I would fix, it's nowhere even close to the top. And as a mostly carnivorous omnivore, I'm certainly very complicit in the very activity that I'm drawing attention to right now.
However, I do think that if I were to create a bucket of "right" and "wrong," with the former consisting of feeding starving children and the latter of kicking puppies, this would definitely go into the "wrong" bucket.


  1. AKA said...

    "10 millions of pounds are added"...of antibiotics, right? wasn't sure.
    you need to see the very beautiful and almost entirely wordless documentary by Geyrhalter called "Unser taglich brot" (our daily bread).
    it's gorgeous, but eat first--you won't want to afterwards.
    also thanks for the shout out!
    - AKA  

  2. thomas said...

    where oh where have you gone?  


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