28 June 2006

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "It Died for Us," by Frank Bruni (Critic's Notebook, Week in Review, June 25):

There is no ethical difference between eating a dog, cat, chicken, pig or fish. If anything, eating your dogs or cats would be morally preferable, since they would have led a good life until you killed them.

According to a 2003 Gallup Poll, 96 percent of Americans believe that animals deserve some legal protection from harm. Yet the almost 40 land animals each American eats every year have their bodies mutilated without pain relief. They're given growth-promoting drugs that often cripple them and are cooped up in their own waste for their entire lives, denied even a modicum of pleasure. They're slaughtered in ways that would be illegal in the European Union.

Every stage of the process would warrant felony cruelty charges were dogs or cats so abused.

If you oppose cruelty, try vegetarianism.

Bruce G. Friedrich
Norfolk, Va., June 25, 2006
The writer is vice president for international grass-roots campaigns, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

To the Editor:

If we lived in the land of the Houyhnhnms as imagined by Jonathan Swift, the horses would be in charge and we poor Yahoos would be a lower order under them.

But we live in a world where Homo sapiens is in charge, and other orders are subject to our whims and rules. And so, as long as animals are treated with a measure of respect, we need them to satisfy our hunger. We also use them as sled dogs, racehorses, pets and draft animals. Is that cruel? Humane treatment means what humans decide.

I, for one, will continue to enjoy lobster and beefsteaks. Others choose to fight against their definition of cruelty by committing cruel acts.

Carl Gutman
Albuquerque, June 26, 2006

To the Editor:

Perhaps Whole Foods should consider no longer selling processed lobster meat as well as live lobsters. Processed lobster comes from lobsters that die inside enormous automated crushing machines. They are loaded alive into a cylinder, and the water around them is compressed to several times the pressure found in the deepest trenches of the ocean.

Tests by animal-welfare experts are under way, but it is not yet clear how long the lobsters suffer inside these high-pressure processors before they die.

While perhaps more humane than boiling alive, it is certainly not more humane than pithing a lobster with a kitchen knife before you put it in the pot.

Trevor Corson
Washington, June 25, 2006
The writer is the author of a book about the biology of lobsters.

To the Editor:

Frank Bruni's Critic's Notebook raises the fundamental question underlying every consumer and lifestyle choice we make: What is our purpose in this life?

If our purpose is to maximize our own pleasure or convenience, we are likely to allow all kinds of suffering in the name of our palate, our taste in clothing and our desire for the highest return on our investments. Any consequences of those decisions are a kind of collateral damage.

But if our purpose is to reduce suffering whenever we can, we derive happiness from the knowledge that our choices are minimizing the collateral damage, while raising the consciousness of the collective.

Mary Martin
Jupiter, Fla., June 25, 2006

To the Editor:

Frank Bruni's essay illustrates the frustration I'm feeling in regard to, well, just about everything.

I volunteer at an animal shelter. The question I hear is, "Well, what about the animals you don't have room for?" I also mentor a child, and I hear, "Well, what about all the other children at her school?"

I stopped eating chicken when I learned about the torture they endure at factory farms, and the question is: "Well, what about cows? Don't you care about them?"

I care about cows, and about homeless animals, and tortured prisoners, and our soldiers dying in Iraq, and children growing up in poverty, and rapes in Congo, and our national debt, and North Korean missiles. What can I do?

With that said, I will not eat chicken or foie gras, and I will not drop a live lobster into a pot of boiling water.

Celia Ballew Jones
Richmond, Va., June 25, 2006

27 June 2006

Eating Rightly

Here is a review of two books on the ethics of food.

From the Mailbag

Dear Keith:

I wanted to thank you once again for sponsoring me in this year's "Trails for TAILS" bike-a-thon. Thanks to you and my other supporters, my ride netted a grand total of $1519.50 for TAILS Humane Society!!! You should be receiving a receipt from TAILS by the end of the week. Thanks so much for your support! I really appreciate it!

All the best,

Mylan [Engel]

p.s. Keith, you should see the TAILS shelter. It's impeccably clean, warm, and inviting. Every time I've ever stopped by there, it has been filled with volunteers and with people looking to adopt animal companions. All would-be adopters undergo a careful screening before being allowed to adopt an animal to ensure that animals are placed in loving homes. It's what a shelter should be!

23 June 2006


Several months ago, during one of my walks with Shelbie, she brought a turtle from the stream along which we had passed. It was a box turtle, about the size of a softball. Shelbie must have known (or sensed, if “known” is too strong) that it was alive, because she rarely carries rocks or other objects (although she did when she was a puppy). To her, it was a toy—something to play with. I removed the turtle from her mouth and carried it back to the stream. The same thing happened a week or so ago. Whether it was the same turtle, I don’t know; but it was the same size and type.

Fast forward to yesterday evening. As I came around the school in the dark, I saw an object in the grass. I walked over to inspect. It was the turtle, lying on its back. I hoped it was living, but it was dead. There were ants on its head and legs. Putting two and two together, I concluded that Shelbie had carried the turtle from the stream again (perhaps the night before) and deposited it—on its back—on the grass. The turtle was apparently unable to right itself and died of exposure. It’s been very hot lately.

I spontaneously said, “You killed that turtle, Shelbie; you murderer.” I didn’t mean this, obviously. Shelbie is not a moral agent, like you and me, and hence not a murderer. She harmed the turtle, in the sense of setting back its interests, but is not responsible for it. It would be silly to blame her or punish her for something over which she had no control. Imagine saying, “Shelbie, dammit, you should have known that taking that turtle out of the stream might result in its death.” While she can be conditioned to act one way rather than another (like human children), she can’t reason, act on principle, or respect others. She lives in an amoral world. Human children become moral agents after a time, but animals such as Shelbie never do.

This is why it’s fallacious to infer from the fact that animals kill each other (via predation) that it’s morally permissible for humans to kill and eat animals. There’s a morally relevant difference between the cases, namely, that humans are moral agents and animals are not. Humans are responsible for their conduct; animals are not. Humans can control their behavior; animals cannot. Humans can survive, even flourish, without meat; carnivorous animals cannot. It may be permissible to eat meat, but not because animals do it.

Addendum: I said that Shelbie is not responsible for the turtle’s death, even if she caused it, but that doesn’t mean I’m not responsible. Just as a parent is responsible for his or her child’s behavior, I’m responsible for Shelbie’s behavior. Of course, one can’t be blamed for something unless one was at least negligent. Was I negligent? I knew that Shelbie had a tendency to carry turtles away from the stream, so perhaps I should have watched her more carefully. (I’m assuming for the sake of argument that it was Shelbie who carried this turtle.) From now on, I will. By the way, what evolutionary value is there in a turtle’s having a shell so tall that it can’t right itself when it gets turned over? This seems like bad engineering, and natural selection is not a bad engineer. The advantage of such a shell must outweigh the obvious disadvantage.

18 June 2006


Here is a New York Times story about fish farming. Please don't write to me to say that I'm endorsing fish farming by linking to a story about it. That's absurd. This blog is designed to stimulate reflection on (and discussion of) the moral status of nonhuman animals. Do your own thinking. Don't look to me for guidance. By linking to this story, all I'm saying is, "Fish farming is taking place; here is a story about it. This practice, like any practice, has a moral dimension. Feel free to reflect on the practice and decide whether it's defensible."

12 June 2006

From the Mailbag

Why are you assisting in the promotion of the humane murder of cattle by linking to the article on organic beef?

Note from KBJ: Readers of this blog should infer nothing whatsoever about my beliefs or attitudes from the mere fact that I link to something. The New York Times story to which I linked raises ethical issues about animals. This is the Animal Ethics blog. Isn't that enough?

10 June 2006

Organic Beef

Here is a New York Times story about organic beef.

06 June 2006

Farm Sanctuary

See here. The New York Hoe Down is coming in August. If you want to sign up for action alerts and updates, click here.

04 June 2006

A Bibliography

Here is Patrick S. O'Donnell's bibliography on animals.

02 June 2006

Improving the Angling Experience

Here is a New York Times editorial opinion about creatine-enhanced trout—designed to improve the angling experience.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "Debate on Global Warming Has Polar Bear Hunting in Its Sights" (front page, May 27):

Nature creates the magnificent polar bear, and the response of the man featured in your article was to kill one simply because it is there.

There was no urgency on the man's part for food or warmth to keep himself alive. Just blood lust—and that is morally repugnant.

Terence Rafferty
St. Paul, May 27, 2006