Because animals are different to us – we have no way of truly understanding if they are the same to us in ways we can understand them.
Think about your pets; people call them their ‘best friend’ and while we feed them, play with them and nurture them when we have the time or we feel like it. But when we leave them inside or confined to a yard while we humans get on with our lives, can it be considered inhumane?
Using the 2013 film/documentary Black Fish as a quick analogy, it is really quite a similar situation as orcas are locked in a pool and only brought out to do tricks and entertain humans. The line is so clearly drawn in the film – and yet how is it any different for our pets? I think it questions the “worth” of certain animals’ lives, and how they cater to the human race, but why can’t there be a universal race in which all animals and humans are treated the same?
I feel like the easiest way to point the finger at how inhumanely animals are treated is to look at the meat/dairy industry. The common problem is that these animals are used for profit, like in many other instances, however this translates to a high volume of say, cows, into tight, uncomfortable and miserable places – minimizing costs at the animal’s expense in appalling conditions.
Peter Singer and Jim Mason’s “The Ethics of What We Eat” outlines the importance of profit in the sensitivity towards animals, for example, how mother pigs are only profitable when they are pregnant, and so crowding a large mother in a small stall with 5-10 piglets is justified somehow. Industry practices exist of ‘disbudding’ (removal of cows’ horns) for the purpose of being able to squeeze more cows into a pen without damaging each other/anyone in the process. Is it productive? Or is it mutilation? Singer and Mason’s book closes with an uncomfortable argument:
If we justify killing animals on the grounds that they possess inferior mental abilities, then we should also sanction the killing of humans who are “not conscious of their lives as their own” (Hile 2006). Reading this makes me think of a video I saw of French activists protesting about the inhumane treatment of animals. (WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT)
In the description, a demonstrator named Salome stated, “This is painful, but I think this is nothing compared to what the animals go through every day; the branding, the live dehorning, castration.”
Reflecting on the video, it is compelling when the inhumane practices on animals are juxtaposed to the same practices on humans. When we put this in the perspective on humans, we can embrace it so much more clearly because subconsciously we may value a human life over an animal. I feel the activists are doing this to break down the ‘hierarchy’ of certain lives to appeal to those who either don’t believe or are uneducated about the insensitivity that occurs towards animals on an industry level.
Another important thing to recognise is how the mainstream media and product branding is why humans are so uninformed of what actually goes on in producing the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the furniture we have and so on. The imagery of animal products really has no relation to the animal itself. For example, cows aren’t present in the imagery of milk, or if they are happy and free in the process of producing the milk. We eat ‘bacon’ and ‘pork chops’, which sound delicious but what if they were called ‘pig belly’ or ‘pig chops’?
These terms such as ‘beef’ and ‘pork’ almost act as euphemisms to separate the animals we adore like we would at a zoo and the animals we eat day-in day-out.
When we imagine the tightly squeezed, windowless, filthy barns and cages in which animals are farmed in – it is quite disturbing, and yet the sirloin steaks and chicken thighs we see in the supermarket have eliminated that image – although it is the same animal – as we become seduced by flavour.
However, in Australia there are “Australian Animal Welfare Standards” that guideline the legal requirements to ensure healthy lives for animals living on farms, and minimize cruelty and inhumane practices. Unfortunately, the clauses are pretty vague. For example, Page 10 of ‘Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle: A Guide for Dairy Farmers’ (2010) “A person castrating or dehorning an animal must have relevant knowledge, experience and skills”.
Moreover, the section states nothing about the use of anesthesia or sedative drugs in the process, and surprisingly not much about the animal’s welfare in general. This means the process can be done while the animal suffers extreme agony. What this says about our governing bodies and us is that humans aren’t ready to abandon the hierarchy of the importance of another being’s satisfaction, enjoyment and overall life. Therefore the question of a “universal race” between humans and animals alike cannot yet be achieved.
Hile, F. 2006, “The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason”, The Monthly, Australian Politics and Culture, Accessed online available at <https://www.themonthly.com.au/books-fiona-hile-ethics-what-we-eat-peter-singer-jim-mason–250>
Dairy Australia, 2014, Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle: A Guide for Dairy Farmers, Dairy Australia, Legislative Handbook, Section 6, Castration, Dehorning and Spaying, P.10 accessed online available at <http://www.dairyaustralia.com.au/~/media/Documents/Animal%20management/Animal%20welfare/Welfare%20regulations/Australian%20Animal%20Welfare%20Standards%20and%20Guidelines%20for%20Cattle%20-%20a%20Guide%20for%20Dairy%20Farmers.pdf>