31 July 2009

29 July 2009

From the Mailbag


Farm Sanctuary, the nation's leading farm animal protection organization, is extremely close to reaching our goal of collecting 10,000 signatures on our "Truth Behind Labels" petition to the USDA to tell them their "naturally raised" label is not natural. We're currently at 9,556 signatures—96% of the way there! I am writing to you today to ask for your help in getting this petition signed, sealed and delivered by urging your readers to sign our petition to let the USDA know we won't stand for their deceptive claims.

Here's some background:

Most people believe that the "naturally raised" label implies animals have access to sunshine, fresh air, freedom of movement and the ability to perform natural behaviors. Yet, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently allowed companies to slap a "naturally raised" label on meat and meat products that come from animals whose upbringing was far from natural.

Cramped crates aren't natural living conditions for calves and sows. Cows and pigs need fresh air, sunlight and open space to engage in natural behaviors such as grazing and rooting for food, taking mud baths, and raising their young. Furthermore, such a label misleads the public and exploits consumer trust in advertising and packaging claims and in government regulation of agriculture.

Readers can sign the petition here.

Many thanks!!!


27 July 2009

24 July 2009

Belgian City of Ghent Goes Vegetarian!

According to this BBC story, city officials in Ghent, Belgium, are encouraging all residents to go vegetarian one day a week. Thursday has been officially designated "Veggie Day." As a result, the main menu in restaurants on Thursdays will be vegetarian. Starting in September, schools will serve vegetarian meals to schoolchildren on Thursdays as well. The city is promoting vegetarianism as a way to reduce its environmental footprint and to help tackle obesity.

In this interview with BBC World Service, Tom Balthazar, deputy mayor of Ghent, explains in more detail why Ghent is going vegetarian on Thursdays.

Note from KBJ: I'm sure Mylan will agree with me that it would be better, morally, if the vegetarian diet were being adopted for the sake of the animals. A Kantian (though not Kant himself) would say that while the act is right, in the sense of being in accordance with duty, it has no moral worth, since it is not done from duty. In other words, the right thing is being done for the wrong reason.

15 July 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Your editorial against my proposal to thin the elk herd in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (“Elk Hunting in the Badlands,” July 8) missed the mark in several key respects.

First, nobody has proposed creating “a broad precedent for public hunting in the national parks.” My proposal applies very narrowly to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. And it does not call for an unregulated hunt; instead, it leaves full discretion to the National Park Service to set appropriate rules for the volunteer hunters who would help to thin the herd.

You also suggest that my proposal would result in shooting of bulls (male elk), as opposed to cows (female elk). My proposal does no such thing. It leaves the National Park Service full latitude to determine which elk should be culled.

Finally, you suggest that it would be less expensive to use “hired sharpshooters” than volunteer hunters. This simply defies common sense. Paying sharpshooters and using helicopters cannot possibly be less expensive than allowing North Dakota hunters to volunteer their time, at no cost, and to take the animal carcasses out of the park themselves—exactly the kind of solution Teddy Roosevelt would have wanted.

Byron Dorgan
Washington, July 9, 2009
The writer is a Democratic senator from North Dakota.

Another Reason to Go Vegetarian

We can thank factory farming for yet another antibiotic-resistant supergerm: Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA). MRSA is a form of staph bacteria resistant to antibiotics (including methicillin). According to Stephanie Woodard's column in Prevention published today, the CDC reports that "certain types of MRSA infections kill 18,000 Americans per year—more than die from AIDS." Woodard goes on to note:

MRSA is so common in the United States that it accounts for more than half of all soft-tissue and skin infections in ERs. The CDC estimates that invasive MRSA infections (those that entered the bloodstream) number more than 94,000 a year. Even more troubling, if you add up the other types of illnesses MRSA can cause, including urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and inpatient skin infections, the total could be 8 to 11 times more than that, reports a study by epidemiologist William Jarvis, MD, of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. The numbers are high and rising: From 1996 to 2005, MRSA-related hospitalizations increased nearly tenfold.

In recent years, MRSA has been found in retail cuts of chicken, pork, beef and other meats—a particularly worrisome trend since MRSA can be contracted simply by handling infected cuts of meat.

Just how prevalent is MRSA-infected meat? It's hard to say because the government still has not instituted a comprehensive MRSA inspection process, but independent research conducted by Tara Smith, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa, suggests that MRSA-infected animals may be widespread indeed. Smith studied two large Midwestern hog farms and found ST398, the virulent strain of MRSA, in 45 percent of farmers and 49 percent of hogs.

The most obvious way to limit your risk of contracting MRSA is this: Don't handle or consume meat. Instead, seek out nonmeat protein sources such as beans, lentils, tofu, soymilk, and in small quantities, nuts and seeds.

Unfortunately, MRSA can be passed from person to person. If you work out in a public gym, disinfect workout equipment before you use it. Wash hands thoroughly after shaking hands with others (especially after shaking hands with those those who eat and handle meat).

Where do antibiotic-resistant supergerms like MRSA come from? All evidence points to factory farms. Factory farms are concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) where animals are raised intensively and permanently confined in warehouses and sheds. Ninety-seven percent of all poultry are raised in sheds containing over 100,000 birds, and hog facilities routinely house thousands of hogs in the same building. The animals either stand in their own waste for the duration of the animal-rearing cycle, or the waste drops down into manure pits below the facility. These unsanitary conditions, coupled with the stress of confinement, compromise the animals' immune systems. To prevent large-scale losses due to disease and also to promote rapid growth, the animals are routinely fed low levels of antibiotics and growth hormones. Nearly 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are fed to farm animals. The nearly constant exposure to low levels of antibiotics creates a perfect breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to emerge. We've seen this with E. coli 0157:H7 and campylobacter. MRSA almost certainly owes its widespread existence to the unsafe factory-farming practice of adding antibiotics to animal feed.

You can read more about MRSA risk and about how the routine use of antibiotics in factory farms contributes to such diseases in Stephanie Woodard's column in Prevention available here.

The Bottom Line: The government cares more about protecting agribusiness profits than it does about protecting the health of consumers. Do your part to help prevent more outbreaks of new antibiotic-resistant supergerms. Write to your state and federal representatives and urge them to pass legislation banning the routine, non-therapeutic use of antibiotics on factory farms. Meanwhile, protect yourself and your family from such germs by refusing to purchase or consume any meat produced on factory farms. Better yet, go vegetarian and stop having to worry about poisoning yourself or a loved one.

07 July 2009

Moral Vegetarianism, Part 9 of 13

For an explanation of this feature, click on “Moral Vegetarianism” at the bottom of this post.

The Argument from Animal Rights

A stronger argument is made by people who maintain that animals have rights. In particular, it has been argued that animals have a right to life. So, even if animals are killed painlessly and raised for food in humane ways, it is wrong to kill them. The question is, of course, whether animals do have a right to life.

The answer to this question turns on what is meant by having a right. The subject is a large and controversial one. On some very sophisticated analyses of rights it is at least debatable whether all animals have the right to live. For example, on Tooley’s analysis, having a right to life is the same as being a person. A necessary condition for being a person is having the capacity for desiring self-continuation, and for this it is necessary to have a concept of the self.

Now, although it is plausible that adult animals of some very intelligent species, e.g., dolphins and chimpanzees, have such a concept, it is not clear that adult animals of other species do and it is very likely that young infants of any species do not. It is also probable that very subnormal adult human beings do not. On this analysis of right, then, many animals and some human beings may well not have the right to life although most human beings and some animals do have such a right.

This would not necessarily mean that animals have no rights. Presumably most animals—even infants—would have the right not to suffer. As Tooley puts it, although “something that is incapable of possessing the concept of a self cannot desire that a self not suffer, it can desire that a given sensation not exist. The state desired—the absence of a particular sensation—can be described in purely phenomenalistic language and hence without the concept of a continuing self.” Given this view of rights, then, many animals probably have no right to life, but all of them have a right not to have pain inflicted on them. Consequently, the killing of some animals for food, if done painlessly, is not morally objectionable.

KBJ: Martin forgot about the human beings who lack a right to life, including infants. They, too, may be killed and eaten on the view under consideration, provided, of course, that they are killed painlessly. I say this not because I advocate such a thing, but to call the view into question. Any view or theory that has an unacceptable implication is unacceptable.

Some vegetarians have argued that it is impossible for one to maintain without absurdity that animals have a right not to suffer pain and yet have no right to life. For it is argued that since every animal will suffer at least once in its life, we have a duty to kill all animals painlessly to prevent this future suffering. To avoid this absurd consequence, it is said, we must admit that animals do have a right to life.

KBJ: I have never heard anyone make this argument. I have been reading animal-rights literature and discussing animal rights since the early 1980s.

I do not believe that this conclusion does follow, however. The absurd consequence would follow only if preventing animals from suffering was the only or at least the overriding factor to be considered. But this is surely dubious. After all, killing all animals would completely upset the ecological balance of nature; it would destroy some creatures of great aesthetic value; it would destroy certain food sources for future generations; and so on. Consequently, any future suffering that could be prevented by killing animals now would have to be weighed carefully against other factors. It is certainly not obvious that these other factors would not tip the scale and allow many animals to live. Thus, humane nonvegetarians may argue that it is enough to try to prevent suffering to living animals as best we can without killing them in advance to prevent their possible suffering.

Some philosophers have disagreed with Tooley’s analysis of person, and consequently with his analysis of right, and have given alternative analyses. But far from supporting moral vegetarianism, these alternative analyses seem to make moral vegetarianism even more difficult to support in terms of animal rights. S. I. Benn, in a critique of Tooley, has argued that a person is a moral agent, a being having “the conceptual capabilities of considering whether to insist or not on his rights, of manipulating, too, the ‘pulls’ it gives him on the actions of others, capable, in short of having projects and enterprises of his own.” According to Benn, only moral agents have rights. It is clear that few animals, if any, are moral agents in this sense. Consequently, on Benn’s analysis, few if any animals have rights of any sort. Benn argues, however, that just because a being does not have rights it does not mean that it is morally permissible to treat it cruelly. In fact, he maintains that some actions are seriously wrong for reaons [sic] other than that they violate rights. The question remains whether it is seriously wrong to kill animals for food. Clearly, given Benn’s analysis, in order to establish that it is wrong to eat animals for food, another sort of argument is needed, an argument that is not based on an appeal to animal rights. An argument of this type is in fact implicit in Benn’s position, and I will consider it presently.

KBJ: There are two types of rights: autonomy rights, which protect autonomy, and welfare rights, which protect interests. Only moral agents have autonomy rights. If no animals are moral agents, as seems plausible, then no animals have autonomy rights. But this says nothing about whether animals have welfare rights. Since (most) animals are sentient, (most) animals have at least one important interest, namely, the interest in not suffering. This interest can serve as the basis of a welfare right. There is, in short, no logical barrier to animals having rights.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

In “Betraying the Planet” (column, June 29), Paul Krugman asserts that those of us who oppose government regulation to deal with climate change are committing “treason against the planet.” I think Mr. Krugman is committing treason against reasoned debate.

One of the most compelling arguments against climate-change regulation is not that global warming isn’t occurring but, rather, that the dangers of further regulation far outweigh its likely benefits. Government regulation is inevitably a political animal; it’s never guided purely, or even largely, by disinterested science.

Is it treasonous to worry about the influence of interest groups on regulation? Is it treasonous to fear that centralizing more power in Washington will result in unforeseen negative consequences? Is it treasonous to believe that the threat to our well-being posed by further constraints upon markets is worse than the threat posed by higher temperatures?

Donald J. Boudreaux
Fairfax, Va., June 29, 2009
The writer is chairman of the economics department at George Mason University.

01 July 2009


Here is a New York Times story about seal meat.


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