31 August 2006

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Butterfly Kiss-Off,” by Jeffrey A. Lockwood (Op-Ed, Aug. 24):

I used to work in a kindergarten classroom in which the teacher ordered a butterfly kit. Yes, the kids loved it and were mesmerized at the sight of two butterflies that emerged unharmed from their cocoons.

Unfortunately, two other cocoons fell from their protective string at the top of the box. The butterflies emerged with broken wings, unable to fly. When the teacher released all four butterflies outside to fend for themselves, the uninjured ones fluttered off. But I knew the other two would meet a certain death.

I took the injured pair home to my backyard. I had to physically put them on the plants a few times a day so that they could get their nourishment. They lived out their short lives, uneaten by predators.

This “experiment” proved to me that butterfly kits are extremely fragile. Too often, they go to inappropriate areas and to people unequipped to take proper care of them.

If teachers want to teach the real “circle of life,” they should take the kids outside to find caterpillars native to their area and set up a habitat conducive to that species of butterfly.

Donna Dixon
Woodbridge, Va., Aug. 24, 2006

Reform or Abolition?

Here, courtesy of Khursh Mian Acevedo, is an essay by Peter Singer and Bruce Friedrich, who argue for the reform of factory farms. Some people, such as law professor Gary Francione, think that reform is counterproductive, in that it entrenches the idea that animals exist for human consumption. If we entrench this idea, they argue, it will make abolition—which everyone agrees is the ideal state—more rather than less difficult.

26 August 2006

Horse Slaughter Again

Mylan Engel has replied to criticisms of his letter. See here.

25 August 2006

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Defying Law, a Foie Gras Feast in Chicago” (news article, Aug. 23):

Given Chicago restaurateurs’ juvenile reaction to the ban on foie gras, I have to wonder if they would go out and kick stray dogs if lawmakers passed legislation intended to protect homeless animals.

People are not permitted to engage in many actions that cause others to suffer—robbery, rape, property destruction, and so on. The foie gras ban is not fundamentally different because it is intended to prevent suffering in animals.

It should not be ignored simply because some people like the way foie gras tastes.

Ducks, like other animals, deserve protection, too.

Nedim C. Buyukmihci
Dilley, Tex., Aug. 23, 2006
The writer is emeritus professor of veterinary medicine, University of California at Davis.

To the Editor:

I wonder why journalists almost never point out, when they note that ducks are missing a gag reflex, the additional and very important fact that ducks feed their young by sticking beaks down their throats.

This would lead to the question, “In what way would a duck interpret the way it is being fed for foie gras as a bad thing, given that it is fed this way from birth?”

Visits to foie gras farms in the United States show that the ducks are well treated, clean and otherwise live natural lives—in heavy contrast to many chickens, cows, turkey, non-grass-fed beef, farmed fish and so on.

Given that ducks receive perhaps the gentlest of all animal treatment in the food world, the derision of foie gras is perplexing.

Ann Evans
Brooklyn, Aug. 23, 2006

To the Editor:

As a dietitian, I am concerned with some Chicago restaurateurs’ idea of culinary rebellion. The foie gras ban is in effect because of animal cruelty issues, but people should also consider the health consequences of consuming this fatty product.

Foie gras derives approximately 85 percent of its calories from fat and contains a whopping dose of cholesterol. Fat and cholesterol are two things no one needs more of—especially the residents of Chicago, one of the fattest cities in the United States, where rates of childhood obesity are soaring.

This is a good time to celebrate that one less unhealthful food will be offered, as opposed to the “sticking it to the man” attitude.

Susan Levin
Washington, Aug. 23, 2006

22 August 2006

Foie Gras

See here.

From the Mailbag


Here is a link to a North Texas E-News article concerning H.R. 503, the bill currently being considered in the United States House of Representatives that would ban the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption.

Not surprisingly, the Agriculture Committee (of the House of Representatives) opposes the legislation, under the guise of humane considerations for horses. What, after all, would happen to all those unwanted horses if people weren't allowed to slaughter them for a profit? Presumably, these horses would suffer terribly. Of course, we don't allow the profit-generating slaughter of cats and dogs for food in this country, and they don't suffer miserably as a result. When a cat or dog becomes infirm with an incurable illness and is in serious pain as a result, we euthanize them as humanely and mercifully as possible. We don't transport them inhumanely across the country to one of the only three horse-slaughtering facilities in the country (one in Illinois, two in Texas). We don't load them on and off trucks with cattle prods, beatings with rebar poles, etc. We don't "knock" them with a captive bolt pistol, a pneumatic gun which fires an eight-inch pin into the animal's skull. (When aimed properly, the captive bolt pistol renders the animal unconscious with a single "knock"; however, when misaimed, as is often the case, the animal suffers terribly from the "knock" and may be "knocked" several times. Also, even when "knocking" does render the animal unconscious, there is no guarantee that the animal will remain unconscious during the slaughtering process.)

According to Gail Eisnitz, chief investigator of the Humane Farming Association and author of the book Slaughterhouse, each year between 100,000 and 300,000 pleasure and race horses find their way into one of America's three horse-slaughtering plants (p. 109). Eisnitz notes that "Most horses slaughtered in the United States are young, healthy animals whose owners simply have no use for them" (p. 109). In the course of her investigations, Eisnitz received a lead "about a Midwest horse plant where horses were allegedly beaten and stuck alive" (p. 112). The "sticker" is the slaughterhouse worker who cuts the animal's throat. Being "stuck" refers to the animal's having his/her throat cut.]

Throughout American history, horses have been respected and revered in a way that other farm animals have not been (perhaps because of the indispensable role horses played in the pioneers' westward expansion, together with the close personal bond that many people form with their horse companions). One result of this respect and reverence is that it is illegal to sell horse flesh for human consumption in the U.S. Why then are there any horse-slaughtering plants in the U.S.? Answer: Because it is not illegal to export horse flesh for human consumption elsewhere. The laws that banned selling horse flesh for human consumption were designed to protect horses from slaughter, but the original intent of these laws has been circumvented by laws that now allow the export of horse flesh to Europe and Japan.

Despite the fact that horses suffer terribly from inhumane handling and transport and inhumane treatment at the slaughter plant, the Ag Committee, as noted above, is on record opposing H.R. 503, under the guise of concern for the humane treatment of horses. For example, Ag Committee Chairman Goodlatte opposes H.R. 503 on the grounds that "it left too many unanswered questions that would detrimentally affect the welfare of America's horses." Just how no longer being inhumanely transported and slaughtered would detrimentally affect these horses' welfare, Goodlatte did not say. Goodlatte did say this: "this is not a bill that will improve the treatment of horses. Too little has been done to deal with the consequences of destroying a legitimate industry by government fiat. If anything, H.R. 503 in its current form will lead to more suffering for the horses it purports to help." Again, it remains unclear how banning the inhumane transport and slaughter of horses would lead to more suffering for them. But it is clear from his remarks that Goodlatte would like to protect the "legitimate" horse-slaughtering industry.

Now look at some of the amendments to H.R. 503 that are supposedly designed to "protect horses." Here is the fifth amendment proposed by Rep. King:

This amendment of H.R. 503 would provide that horses could not be shipped, transported, moved, delivered, received, possessed, purchased, sold, or donated to be slaughtered at a plant that is not in existence on the date of the enactment of this act.
How does that help horses? It doesn't. It does, however, greatly help the only three horse-slaughtering plants in the U.S. permanently corner the horse-slaughtering market. I don't know who runs the horse-slaughtering plants in Texas, but the horse-slaughtering plant in Illinois—Cavel International—is owned by a Belgian company, which grosses $48 million in annual sales. See story about Cavel International here.

What King's Amendment #5 does do is effectively gut H.R. 503 and leave the status quo in place. A boon for Cavel. Not much to write home about for the 100-300 thousand horses who will suffer as a result.

Look at the amendment proposed by Rep. Peterson: "This amendment to H.R. 503 would make H.R. 503 a pilot program for the states of Kentucky and New York." Since neither of these states has any horse-slaughtering plants, its not clear how this amendment serves to ensure that horses are treated humanely.

Here is Rep. Conway's proposed amendment: "This amendment to H.R. 503 would require the secretary to compensate any horse owner who, no longer having the option of selling a horse for processing, suffers a loss in value of his horse and incurs the cost of euthanasia and disposal of the horse." Gee, I wonder if Conway would support a bill that would require the government to compensate people for the cost of having their cats and dogs euthanized. Perhaps the government should pay the full cost of human funerals, too. If we're going to compensate people for the costs of their horse losses, should we compensate them for the cost of their human losses as well?

Rep. King's third amendment would exempt horses that are owned or controlled by a state or political subdivision of a state or by an individual who purchased the horse from a state or local government. Not much benefit here for state-owned horses. I assume that many state-owned horses are used in the line of duty by police forces and the like. Inhumane transport and slaughter seems an unfitting way to thank these horses for their years of service.

Rep. King's second amendment would exempt horses that will be processed for charitable or humanitarian relief purposes. Once again, Rep. King is clearly looking out for the horses' best interest.

Make no mistake about it, those on the Ag Committee who oppose H.R. 503 do not have the interests of horses in mind. What they do have in mind is protecting the corporate profits of Cavel International, as well as the profits of horse owners. Anyone who favors the humane treatment of animals should write their representatives and encourage them to support H.R. 503 in its original unamended form!

Best wishes,

Mylan [Engel]

21 August 2006

19 August 2006

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Barun Mitra claims that the tiger could “buy its way out of the extinction it faces” if the breeding and sale of parts from captive-bred tigers for traditional Chinese medicine were allowed (“Sell the Tiger to Save It,” Op-Ed, Aug. 15).

But re-opening any trade would ensure it’s open season on the world’s remaining wild tigers. Everywhere they live, these magnificent cats fall victim to poisoning, shooting, electrocution and snaring for their skins, bones and other body parts.

If China were to lift its 1993 ban on domestic trade in tiger parts, the incentives for poachers would be even greater, as there would be no way to distinguish the bones of “farmed” tigers from those of wild tigers. Poachers could wipe out what remains of wild populations while “laundering” their goods through legal trade channels.

A better way to conserve tigers is the simplest. We have seen the rapid recovery of fast-breeding tiger populations wherever they and their prey are protected and given adequate space. Save the Chinese farms for ducks and pigs. Save the wildlands of Asia for their tigers and the millions of other species protected in tiger reserves.

Eric Dinerstein
Washington, Aug. 15, 2006
The writer is chief scientist of the World Wildlife Fund.

To the Editor:

Although Barun Mitra makes a provocative argument for tiger “farming,” there is still something morally odious about breeding an endangered species to satisfy human lust for an exotic animal’s body parts.

Kate James
Davis, Calif., Aug. 16, 2006

13 August 2006

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “A Chinese Outcry: Doesn’t a Dog Have Rights?” (news article, Aug. 10):

This sad story was just another reminder that with all its economic progress, China has a long way to go when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable of its residents.

Carol Derby
Washington, Aug. 10, 2006

09 August 2006

Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary

The good folks at Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary have started a blog, which I will add to the blogroll.

05 August 2006

Horses and Cows

Read this. Is there a morally relevant difference between cows and horses that could justify opposing the slaughter of horses but not opposing the slaughter of cows? How many of those who agitate against horse slaughter eat beef?

01 August 2006


Shelbie kidnapped another turtle this morning. (See here for background.) I thought something was up when she didn't meet me at the street crossing. I noticed when she ran up that she was carrying something, which she promptly dropped. Sure enough, it was a turtle—just like this. This one was the size of a baseball cut in half. It's already over 90º Fahrenheit, with a forecast for 100º, so I couldn't leave the turtle there. I carried the critter half a mile back to the creek. I waited a few minutes to see what would happen. The turtle eventually poked its head out, looked around, and scampered (if that's the appropriate word for how a turtle moves) into the reeds.