31 October 2009

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on Moral Blindness

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) I do not share the extreme vegetarian view that food reform is the foundation of other reforms, for I think it can be shown that all cruelties to animals, whether inflicted in the interests of the dinner-table, the laboratory, the hunting-field, or any other institution, are the outcome of one and the same error—the blindness which can see no unity and kinship, but only difference and division, between the human and the non-human race. This blindness it is—this crass denial of a common origin, a common nature, a common structure, and common pleasures and pains—that has alone hardened men in all ages of the world, civilized or barbarous, to inflict such fiendish outrages on their harmless fellow-beings; and to remove this blindness we need, it seems to me, a deeper and more radical remedy than the reform of sport, or of physiological methods, or even of diet alone. The only real cure for the evil is the growing sense that the lower animals are closely akin to us, and have Rights.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 109-10 [italics in original])

28 October 2009

Pet Care Education

Here is a website for your consideration. I have added it to the blogroll.

27 October 2009

"The Carbon Footprint of Meat"

One of my students directed my attention to this news story.

23 October 2009

H. B. Acton (1908-1974) on Animal Rights

Image_2_2374 I will conclude with some remarks about the rights of animals. When it is asked whether animals have rights, and whether human beings have duties to them, the question, I think, is partly moral and partly verbal. Let us consider the moral question first. This is the question whether the wrongness of cruelty to animals depends in part upon the animals' suffering, or whether it does not depend upon that at all, but only upon the bad effects upon human beings of cruelty to animals, and upon the badness of the human states of mind that such cruelty involves. (Hominum causa omne ius constitutum.) It is this latter view, I believe, that is in the minds of some of those who deny that animals have rights. Now most people would grant that it is wrong to bring about what is bad except in order to prevent worse. If this be so, then to say that the wrongness of cruelty to animals depends solely upon the human aspects of it, is to assume that the pain of animals is not bad. This could be either because no pain is bad, or because no animal pain is bad. This is not the place to discuss these propositions, but it is important to notice that the more inclusive or the less inclusive of them must be true if the wrongness of cruelty to animals depends entirely upon human beings or human society.

The question of words is whether to talk about the rights of animals is likely to mislead. If a legal right is an interest or expectation protected by law, then it follows that, under the Protection of Animals Act (1911), domestic and captive animals in England have rights, in that they are protected against being cruelly beaten, kicked, ill-treated, over-ridden, over-driven, over-loaded, tortured, infuriated, or terrified. Yet writers on jurisprudence say that animals do not have legal rights. Their main reason, I think, for not following their own logic, is that by saying that animals have legal rights they are putting them into a class all the other members of which are persons of one sort or another. Persons are beings with rights and duties, whereas no one supposes that animals have duties. Perhaps it is feared that the association of animals with this class in one respect will lead to suggestions that they share the other characteristics of its other members. Perhaps it is feared that the admission that animals have rights will be followed by claims that animals should be treated like persons in other ways also. Similar considerations, I suggest, apply when we ask whether it is proper to say that animals have moral rights. If we say they have, we class them with beings the rest of whom are capable of duties. Even congenital idiots look like men. Furthermore, although we say that animals have rights, we also think we are justified in hunting and eating them. This puts them into such a different category from other right-owning creatures, that we hesitate to apply the same word to the immunities we consider they are morally entitled to. Here, as elsewhere, the influence of what is nuclear and typical is unduly constraining.

(H. B. Acton, "Rights," The Aristotelian Society, supplementary volume 24 [1950]: 95-110, at 108-10 [italics in original; footnotes omitted])

09 October 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Animal Cruelty and Free Speech” (editorial, Oct. 6):

I do not agree that “anyone with an appreciation for the First Amendment” must conclude that “crush videos” or videos of vicious dogfights are protected speech and that the federal law in question should therefore be struck down.

The law speaks specifically and narrowly to the distribution for profit of videos that show illegal acts of cruelty actually being performed on live animals (my italics). Only a very narrow range of activities come under the sweep of this law, and all of them are illegal.

Yes, racists are allowed to “spew racism,” but they are not allowed to encourage criminal activities, and if they were to carry their “advocacy” to the point of distributing videos that depicted the actual maiming or killing of the people they would like to get rid of, they would not be able to claim First Amendment protection.

I am not a fan of pornography, but I find it hard to understand how we can deny First Amendment protection to some depictions of sexual acts performed by consenting adults who at the end of the day collect their paychecks and go home, but must give that protection to those who produce and sell videos that show helpless animals being illegally tortured and killed.

I was privileged to be present in the court when this case was argued. It was beyond refreshing to see a complex question debated with thoughtful intelligence and civility on all sides.

Christopher Anne Affleck
Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 7, 2009

To the Editor:

You make the argument that the First Amendment has historically protected free discourse and should, in the same spirit, protect depictions of animal cruelty. The comparison to Nazi marches and racist hate speech fails to acknowledge a critical distinction—speaking out in favor of criminal activity versus the carrying out of criminal acts.

In the case of dogfighting and “crush videos,” cruelty is not just promoted, but staged. If the Nazi marchers and racist hate mongers “augmented” their activities with videos of graphic violence against Jews and blacks, would The New York Times rush to their defense on constitutional grounds?

Fred Engelhardt
Alna, Me., Oct. 6, 2009

To the Editor:

If the First Amendment protects videos that cannot be made without torturing animals, you didn’t make much of a case for it.

Yes, as you say, the First Amendment allows Nazis to march and racists to spew. But that expression does not require the torture of Jews or African-Americans to produce. While deeply offensive, it is still only words.

The closer analogy here is child pornography. If it cannot be made without sexually abusing children, it has no First Amendment protection. Why are “crush videos” involving animals any different?

They might be different if our Constitution gives live animals no greater consideration than clay pigeons. But the capacity of animals to feel pain makes this case harder than your editorial suggested.

J. Stephen Clark
Albany, Oct. 6, 2009
The writer is a professor of constitutional law at Albany Law School.

To the Editor:

Your editorial states: “The government seems to think it is enough that the harm caused by the animal-cruelty depictions outweighs their social value, but the First Amendment does not say that Congress can restrict speech if it fails a balancing test.”

Why isn’t that your position concerning the ability of Congress to restrict campaign speech paid for with corporate treasury funds?

Lawrence A. Mandelker
New York, Oct. 6, 2009
The writer is a lawyer.

07 October 2009

From the Mailbag


On Sunday, October 4, Farm Sanctuary held the largest Walk for Farm Animals in New York City history. Nearly 700 registrants converged on Central Park, making the event quite possibly the largest gathering of people standing in solidarity with farm animals ever. Special guest Jane Velez-Mitchell, host of HLN’s “Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell,” delivered one of the most powerful pro-vegan, pro-animal speeches I’ve ever heard. I wanted to share it with you in case you would like to share it with your readers. Please note there are two parts: here and here.

All the best,


06 October 2009

On Trial: Animal Torture Videos vs. Free Speech

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear U.S. v. Stevens. At issue in the case is the constitutionality of a decade-old law passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1999. That law, U.S. Code, Title 18.48, made it a federal crime to knowingly create, sell, or possess a depiction of animal cruelty with the intention of placing that depiction in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain. The statute defines a depiction of animal cruelty as “any visual or auditory depiction, including any photograph, motion-picture film, video recording, electronic image, or sound recording of conduct in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed, if such conduct is illegal.”

The law was enacted to prevent the sale of videos depicting wanton cruelty to animals, such as “crush videos” in which a scantily clad woman, whose face is unseen, kills helpless animals such as rabbits and kittens by stomping on them with spike heels or her bare feet. The law also made it a crime to sell videos in which animals were tortured to death by being burned alive, as well as videos of illegal dog fights.

In 2004, Robert Stevens was convicted of violating this law and sentenced to 32 months in prison for selling videos featuring pit bulls chasing wild boars on organized hunts and depicting a pit bull attacking the lower jaw of a domestic farm pig, according to the Philadelphia-based appeals court.

In July, a divided U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the decision by a vote of 10 to 3, overturning Stevens’s conviction and striking down the law on the grounds that it violated the right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.

For more about the case, see this Chicago Tribune column.

For a New York Times editorial supporting the Appeals Court's decision to declare the law unconstitutional on free speech grounds, see here.

Is the New York Times right to support striking down the law banning depictions of animal cruelty on First Amendment/free speech grounds? I don’t think so. There are legitimate limits to free speech, and almost all of these limits are justified on the basis of the harm principle. According to the harm principle, one’s liberty can be legitimately limited when doing so is necessary to prevent harm to others. We don’t have the free speech right to falsely yell “Fire” in a crowded theater because many people would likely be injured in a mad dash to the exits. Similarly, child pornography is not protected by the First Amendment. Child pornography is illegal because we know that if it were legal to make and distribute such pornography, countless innocent children would be filmed being sexually abused against their will and the abusers making these films would profit from this abuse. The 1999 law banning crush videos was enacted for similar reasons. It was enacted to prevent helpless innocent animals from being tortured to death.

This much is certain: If the Supreme Court upholds the verdict of the Appeals Court and deems U.S. Code, Title 18.48 unconstitutional, more innocent animals will be crushed and burned to death in crush videos, and more animals will be ripped to shreds by pit bulls. And the people making these videos will profit handsomely from the torture they inflict on these animals. I hope the Supreme Court will see clear to protect animals from such gratuitous harm and exploitation. Free speech has legitimate limits, and this is one of them.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “The Burger That Shattered Her Life: Trail of E. Coli Shows Flaws in Ground Beef Inspection System” (front page, Oct. 4):

Your article about E. coli and the young woman whose future has been irreversibly altered through the simple, all-American act of eating a hamburger is a stunning indictment of the food-processing industry in general and the specifically named corporations whose moral bankruptcy is made all the more glaring by their efforts to justify their actions behind a curtain of claims of trade confidentiality.

It also offers an equally harsh negative judgment of the federal authorities whose mandate is to protect the integrity of the public’s food supply chain but who have chosen to interpret this responsibility so lightly as to let such claims stand while ignoring repeated offenses by the industry.

Is it any wonder that cynicism with regard to the efficacy of government is at an all-time high?

A. Victoria
Bridgehampton, N.Y., Oct. 5, 2009

To the Editor:

I ate my last hamburger last night. It tasted wonderful—juicy, fragrant and meaty. Then I saw the photo of Stephanie Smith and read the accompanying article. It’s a terrible but ultimately not surprising tale, given the continued lack of self-regulation and the emphasis on profit over safety in the meat industry.

The only way the meat industry will change its ways is for people to stop buying ground beef and cause sales to plummet. Only then will these companies “do the right thing,” if only to ensure their continued survival.

Starting today, I’m no longer eating ground beef.

Ann Calandro
Flemington, N.J., Oct. 4, 2009

To the Editor:

Your otherwise impressive article did not mention irradiation, the only reliable method of eliminating E. coli O157:H7 and other disease-causing microbes from raw meat and poultry. The Food and Drug Administration approved irradiation as safe and effective for use on poultry in 1992 and on meat in 1997. But for more than 20 years, consumer groups led by Public Citizen have worked to scare the public about food irradiation and threatened to boycott companies that market irradiated products.

In 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that irradiating half the meat and poultry consumed in the United States would mean 900,000 fewer cases of food-borne illness and 350 fewer deaths each year. Unfortunately, irradiated meat and poultry can’t be found on store shelves. For that you can blame a cowardly food industry and a cynical consumer movement, willing to sacrifice lives to further its antinuclear agenda.

Larry Katzenstein
Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., Oct. 5, 2009
The writer worked from 1978 to 1990 at Consumers Union as a health and science writer for Consumer Reports Magazine.

To the Editor:

As someone who has followed this issue for years, I would no sooner eat burger meat from an industrial processor than I would send a 4-year-old across Broadway alone.

While this tragedy will increase calls for sorely needed government regulation, the real answer lies in the hands of each one of us: buy your burger from a local butcher who processes his ground beef daily on the premises.

There are many of these, survivors of the industrialization of our food supply, in most cities and towns across America. You will enjoy a much better meal and can safely cook it to your preferred doneness, although it will cost more.

The consumer, in his willy-nilly race to the bottom of the price chain, is the real enabler here. I wonder if the inflated health insurance premiums we all pay, in part to account for worst-case scenarios like that of Stephanie Smith, are in effect a hidden subsidy for these food-processing giants, who, like the banks that don’t even know who actually owns the mortgage, are unable to tell where our food even comes from.

Serge Scherbatskoy
Arcata, Calif., Oct. 4, 2009

To the Editor:

I have been a strict vegetarian most of my life, and, as such, I have never lacked reasons—ethical, economic and health-related—to continue this lifestyle. But Stephanie Smith’s very tragic hamburger-induced affliction provides me with still another excuse (as if I needed one) to shun the carnivorous ways of so many of my fellow beings.

I wish Ms. Smith the very best.

Gordon Wilson
Laguna Niguel, Calif., Oct. 4, 2009

To the Editor:

Nobody on the path followed by the contaminated beef that wrecked Stephanie Smith’s life has accepted responsibility for his failures in the obligation to assure food safety. The Department of Agriculture, Cargill and all their suppliers mouth meaningless, and nonbinding, pledges to make incremental improvements while assuring us only that they will not take all the measures that are within their power to produce safe food.

The Department of Agriculture, our government, continues to compromise our health in favor of industry convenience. How many lives must be lost or horribly altered before the agencies we entrust with our well-being do their jobs and begin to look out for our interests?

Gary Paudler
Summerland, Calif., Oct. 4, 2009

To the Editor:

With regard to the tragic E. coli food poisoning of Stephanie Smith, which has probably left her paralyzed for life, as well as many others around the country ill from tainted ground beef, I find the comments of Dr. Kenneth Petersen, an assistant administrator with the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, dreadful, appalling and alarming.

He stated that the department could demand mandatory testing, but that it had to consider what effect that would have on companies as well as consumers. He said, “I have to look at the entire industry, not just what is best for public health.”

It was my understanding that the agency’s first priority was and should be the safety of the public! Imagine if I and the rest of the medical profession said we had to look at the entire pharmaceutical and surgical supply industry’s needs, not just our patients’ health. What a potential disaster that could be for our patients’ health and well-being!

Howard Rudominer
Livingston, N.J., Oct. 4, 2009
The writer is a doctor.

01 October 2009


There were 2,015 visits to this blog during September, which is an average of 67.1 per day.