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Don’t eat that burger!

A basic tenet of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is that animals enjoy the same right to life as humans do. PETA President Ingrid Newkirk summed up this position best when she said, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” This is the same woman who wrote a letter to Yassir Arafat in 2003 complaining that an explosive laden donkey was killed when it was used as the delivery vehicle for a bombing in Jerusalem without ever mentioning the innocent people, including children, who were murdered.The PETA cause may be noble, but by taking an absolutist position they come to be viewed as warriors in some type of holy war. This is unfortunate, because some of these activists are so off-putting that legitimate messages get lost.So the question is, “Do animals have rights? Matthew Scully, “Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy” feels that notion is ill-conceived. According to Scully, the starting point of man’s relationship with animals, “should be with our obligations – the requirements for living with integrity. In defining them, some facts are pertinent, facts about animals’ emotional capacities and their experience of pain and happiness.” My father was a butcher by trade, who with my uncle Joe owned and operated a grocery store on Chicago’s west side. When I was a boy, my Dad would take me to the old Union Stockyards – kind of a busman’s holiday, I guess. But for a city kid, other than a yearly trip to Lincoln Park Zoo, this was about as close as I was ever going to get to animals larger than a household pet.While I never went into the slaughterhouses, we walked around the pens and I have vivid memories of new-born calves “nursing” from my index finger as I held it out, and petting the lambs in the sheep pens. All pretty harmless stuff for a 9-year old.But much has changed during the years that have elapsed. Industrial farming is now the mainstay of the meat, poultry and even the fish industry ($125 billion per year business in the U.S) and those old-style pens on the South Side of Chicago are a distant memory. The United States is home to numerous animal-welfare groups dedicated to a myriad of concerns, such as the treatment of farm animals, creating shelters for unwanted animals, and advocating laws against animal cruelty. But PETA’s message has always been unconditional. It maintains “that it’s neither moral nor necessary to kill animals for research purposes or to raise them for food, fur or any other form of human consumption – and society needs to change fundamentally to reflect this truth.”But the chances of PETA’s message gaining favor with any significant percentage of American society are not very great because it’s simply “not going to sell” to the majority of people. Nevertheless, PETA has some legitimate points to make.While I seldom give much thought to how the meat, fish and poultry I buy at City Market or Safeway is produced, I recently visited the Web site http://www.factoryfarming.com. What I discovered, if portrayed accurately, was appalling. Cows, lambs, pigs, chickens and even fish are farmed in such a manner that if the average person knew of the horrors these animals experience and the resulting toxins released into their bloodstreams (and thus into the food we eat), he or she might consider becoming vegan. Animals of every variety are subjected to mutilations without anesthesia or pain relievers. Calves, piglets and lambs are taken away from their mothers and crowded into pens. They live their entire lives knowing only metal bars and concrete floors. Poultry stock doesn’t fare any better. Laying hens have part of their beaks cut off. De-beaking, as it is called, is a painful procedure that involves cutting through bone, cartilage, and soft tissue. Then, in accordance with the USDA’s recommendation to give each hen four inches of “feeder space,” hens are commonly packed four to a cage measuring just 16 inches wide. In this tiny space, the birds cannot stretch their wings or legs or fulfill normal behavioral patterns. Another little known fact is one method of disposing of unwanted male chicks (according to the website) is to grind them up alive.The life of a farm-raised fish is equally as dreadful, beginning in small hatching tanks. Fish crowded into small areas are susceptible to disease and suffocation, and “growing 2,500 pounds of fish in 2,500 gallons of water doesn’t give the fish much room to breathe.”The aforementioned Web site cites instances of steers and cows that are often injured, some so severely that they become “downed” (unable to walk or even stand). These downed animals commonly suffer for days without receiving food, water or veterinary care. Many die of neglect. Still others are dragged, beaten and pushed with tractors on their way to slaughter – and the beat goes on.Whether animals have rights per se is an interesting question. Nevertheless, I do believe that as a society we have obligations to the living things we share our planet with. Pigs and puppies occupy very different positions on our perception continuum, and few of us are about to stop eating sushi or burgers. But I for one would be willing to pay a little more per pound if I thought it would keep 500 pound mammals from living their entire lives in 7-foot long, 22-inch-wide iron crate. How about you?Butch Mazzuca of Singletree, a Realtor, writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@earthlink.net. This column, as in the case of all personal columns, does not necessarily reflect the views of the Vail Daily.Vail, Colorado


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