Widening the Circle of Compassion
“Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
letter dated 1950, quoted in H. Eves’ Mathematical Circles Adieu, 1977
If the anticruelty laws that protect pets were applied to farmed animals, many of the most routine U.S. farming practices would be illegal in all 50 states. Are dogs and cats really so different from chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cows that one group deserves legal protection from cruelty, while the other deserves virtually no protection at all?
Disregard for farmed animals persists because few people realize the ways in which these individuals are mistreated, and even fewer actually witness the abuse. Once aware, most people are appalled – not because they believe in animal rights, but because they believe that animals feel pain and that morally decent human beings should try to prevent pain whenever possible.
“Historically, man has expanded the reach of his ethical calculations, as ignorance and want have receded, first beyond family and tribe, later beyond religion, race, and nation.
“To bring other species more fully into the range of these decisions may seem unthinkable to moderate opinion now. One day, decades or centuries hence, it may seem no more than ‘civilized’ behavior requires.”
The Economist, “What Humans Owe to Animals,” 8/19/95
|Male chicks, of no economic value to the egg industry, are found dead and dying in a dumpster behind a hatchery (click images for full views; courtesy of Farm Sanctuary). Typically, they’re ground up alive or gassed.8 Other standard farming practices – rarely performed with painkillers – include castration, tail docking, dehorning, and cutting off parts of birds’ beaks, toes, combs, and snoods (the flesh over male turkeys’ beaks).8|
“True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power.
“Humanity’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.
“And in this respect humankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.”
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1984
|Ducks and geese are force-fed to produce foie gras (click for another image; courtesy of PETA).|
“Humans – who enslave, castrate, experiment on, and fillet other animals – have had an understandable penchant for pretending animals do not feel pain. A sharp distinction between humans and ‘animals’ is essential if we are to bend them to our will, make them work for us, wear them, eat them – without any disquieting tinges of guilt or regret.
“It is unseemly of us, who often behave so unfeelingly toward other animals, to contend that only humans can suffer. The behavior of other animals renders such pretensions specious. They are just too much like us.”
Dr. Carl Sagan & Dr. Ann Druyan, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, 1992
|There are no laws protecting hens while on the farm. This photo was taken by COK during their February 2005 investigation of a Maryland egg farm. For more information, see EggIndustry.com|
|Fish trapped inside net (photo courtesy of David Falconer).|
An article published in the Journal of Fish Biology explains:
The scientific study of fish welfare is at an early stage compared with work on other vertebrates and a great deal of what we need to know is yet to be discovered. It is clearly the case that fish, though different from birds and mammals, however, are sophisticated animals, far removed from unfeeling creatures with a 15 second memory of popular misconception.…
[I]t has been argued that the longer the life span of a given species of animal and the more sophisticated its general behaviour, the greater its need for complex mental processes similar to those that in humans generate the conscious experience of suffering. In this context, therefore, it is relevant that the longest-living vertebrates are found among the fishes and that fish behaviour is rich, complicated and far from stereotyped.… Indeed, current literature on fish cognition indicates that several fish species are capable of learning and integrating multiple pieces of information that require more complex processes than associative learning.12
The fastest growing food-producing sector is aquaculture; one of two fish eaten is now raised on a farm rather than caught in the wild.39 As with other forms of animal agriculture, the practices employed by fish farmers are designed to increase profitability but can reduce the well-being of the fish. Welfare concerns include: poor water quality, aggression, injuries, and disease associated with inappropriate stocking densities; health problems due to selection for fast growth; handling and removal from water during routine husbandry procedures; food deprivation during disease treatment and before harvest; and pain during slaughter.12,32
In January 2011, Mercy For Animals released undercover footage that shows workers at a Texas slaughter facility using pliers to pull the skin off of live fish.
“There is evidence from some species of fish, cephalopods and decapod crustaceans of substantial perceptual ability, pain and adrenal systems, emotional responses, long- and short-term memory, complex cognition, individual differences, deception, tool use, and social learning.”
Donald M. Broom, PhD, University of Cambridge Professor
of Animal Welfare
Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, Vol. 75, No. 2, 2007
In the world’s marine fisheries, 87 percent of fish stocks are already fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted.13 A UN Chronicle article on overfishing warns that “oceans are cleared at twice the rate of forests” and “the dramatic increase of destructive fishing techniques destroys marine mammals and entire ecosystems.”14 It’s estimated that, each year, hundreds of thousands of dolphins, seals, and other marine mammals die in fishing nets worldwide.23
See also: NOAA “Ecological Effects of Fishing” report (PDF); “Would You Like Mercury With Your Sushi?”; “Science-based assessment of welfare: aquatic animals” (PDF) from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE); USDA ERS Aquaculture Outlook report for 2006 (PDF).