I’ve spent a lot of time educating myself about the ways we routinely exploit and mistreat animals, and I’ve noticed that people frequently try to justify abusive practices by claiming they’re necessary to perpetuate other abusive practices. Here are some examples to illustrate what I mean.
In the UK, badgers in certain regions are routinely killed as they’re said to spread bovine tuberculosis (TB) to cattle. Despite the fact that badger culling is proven to be ineffective, and that a humane and more effective alternative exists (vaccination), the practice continues. Since there’s no way of identifying which badgers have TB (without testing), many healthy badgers are killed. It’s been called into question whether badgers and cattle even have enough contact for the disease to be transmitted between them.
Meanwhile, the cows that badger culling allegedly protects are separated from their calves, killed and subjected to painful procedures and mutilations (read my guide to the UK dairy industry for more information). If we didn’t insist on exploiting cows, there’d be no excuse to kill badgers, but the former is used to justify the latter.
Seals off the Scottish coast are often shot because they eat farmed salmon. This practice is legal as long as farmers have a licence, though it’s declined in recent years. Meanwhile, farmed fish suffer greatly, frequently afflicted with diseases and parasitic sea lice. High stocking densities lead to stress, cannibalism and competition for food. Fish farming has far more welfare issues than I can list here – visit this site for more information.
In the barbaric ‘sport’ of fox-hunting, dogs controlled by horseback riders are forced to find and rip apart foxes. This is allegedly done because foxes prey on farmed animals, which themselves typically suffer greatly. Although fox-hunting with dogs is now illegal, it still happens. Chasing down and shooting foxes is legal.
The exploitation of the dogs and horses involved also shouldn’t be overlooked. Dogs which refuse to chase foxes are killed, often with a shot to the head. Horses may be whipped to make them go faster, and put down if they’re injured. Of course, the ‘sport’ is more about the thrill of the chase than protecting livestock from predators. Some hunts have been found keeping foxes captive so there will always be one to chase, or building artificial ‘earths’ for foxes to live in and feeding them to keep them in the area. Clearly the justifications given for this practice are nothing more than excuses.
Aside: As foxes are territorial, a new one will quickly move into an area after another is killed – hunting them is therefore counterproductive. Moreover, foxes kill very few animals – they’re responsible for under 1% of lamb losses, for instance. They can in fact be beneficial to farmers as they eat rabbits, which can greatly damage crops.
Mutilation Of Farmed Animals
Chickens are routinely debeaked to stop them pecking each other when crammed into confined spaces. Cattle have their horns removed so they don’t pose a danger to farmers and each other. Male piglets and calves are castrated without anaesthetic. It’s true that without these procedures, animals would be difficult to control and might injure humans and each other. But does this justify the cruelty when we don’t need to use animals in the first place?
‘Cows Need To Be Milked’
This phrase is commonly used to justify the consumption of dairy. Cows need to be milked for two reasons: firstly because their calves are removed, and secondly because they’ve been bred to produce such large quantities of milk. This is a problem of our own making, remedied by not breeding these animals in the first place.
Similarly, ‘sheep need to be shorn’ is a common argument for buying wool, but this is only true because we’ve bred them that way. We don’t need to keep doing so. To borrow a phrase from Bite Size Vegan, it’s like farting in a room and saying ‘Thank God I’m here to open the window!’
Farmed animals are often treated cruelly because they’re viewed as property, to be used as their owner wishes and guarded at all costs. Cruel practices such as hunting and mutilation are just crude solutions to problems we’ve created ourselves. They don’t tackle the source of the problem – our attitude towards animals.
P.S. Little Green Seedling is now on Twitter! Come say hi!