by Karen Davis, Ph.D., president, United Poultry Concerns
Apart from a small but perhaps widening circle of optimism, it is hard to figure whether progress for farmed animals is actually happening in modern society. While it is great to see more plant-based products in local supermarkets, the amount of meat displayed in the aisles has not lessened, nor, apparently, has the amount of it exiting the stores in millions of plastic shopping bags each day.
I was thinking about the reminders of animal suffering in our daily lives, here in America–– reminders so familiar that they go unnoticed by most of us––while reading about the recent outbreak of a new strain of contagious coronavirus in China and Hong Kong.
The coronavirus has, not surprisingly, been traced back to one or more live animal markets in Wuhan, a city in central China, where, as in all fresh-kill “wet” markets, highly stressed animals, both wild and domestic, huddle in cages and tanks awaiting their turn to be slaughtered.
The taste for ‘warm meat’ in China & Hong Kong
A January 23, 2020 article in The Guardian, “Appetite for ‘warm meat’ drives risk of disease in Hong Kong and China,” haunts me, as do photographs in media accounts of customers, sometimes with their children, browsing in Asian markets amid freshly killed and still living animals in garishly-lit, blood-soaked caverns that not only don’t seem to repulse anyone, but invite enthusiasm for what the customers perceive as delectable carnage.
Is western society progressive?
I’m tempted to think, “Well, at least we’ve come a long way from that,” which was commonplace in the U.S. a few generations ago, but I don’t quite believe it. Is it moral progress to go from buying meat in a market filled with the recently beating and still beating hearts of wild and domesticated animals, to browsing over the antiseptically-doctored flesh of birds, mammals and fish at Walmart and Whole Foods, from which the odors of death and the faces of the animals have been purged?
The Guardian notes that a Walmart store close to a “wet” market in China bordering Hong Kong has only a trickle of customers, compared to the shoppers who appear each day at daybreak at the market to assess the freshly-killed flesh by smell, color, and touch, and who consider “warm” meat safer to consume than “some diseased animal” chilled or frozen at Walmart.
If rural people in China and Hong Kong, who traditionally have not had refrigerators and thus by long habit prefer freshly killed animals over preserved flesh, start to prefer the Walmart experience over the wet market experience, will this be progress for animals?
George Bernard Shaw on the custom of atrocity
The British playwright and socialist advocate George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) said custom will reconcile people to any atrocity. Take Salisbury, Maryland, the home of Perdue Farms, where a McDonald’s restaurant sits on one side of the highway and a chicken slaughterhouse looms on the other, surrounded by sagging truckloads of chickens waiting on the loading dock to be killed. There is no clear evidence that the sight of suffering in others evokes empathy or protest in the majority of people, and the first shock of seeing suffering can wear off. Even if it doesn’t, people have many ways of not seeing or caring.
False guilt & indifference to animals
The fact that animals are suffering and dying for appetites that can be satisfied by plant-based foods makes some, perhaps many, people uncomfortable, though not necessarily out of guilt. People get annoyed that you are bothering them about animals, trying to curtail their freedom and uncover a guilt they may or may not feel, so that some end up feeling “guilty” because they don’t feel guilty, just vexed that they’re being victimized.
Deborah Cao, a professor at Griffith University in Australia and an expert on animal protection in China, observed in The Guardian article that a deep contributor to the continuing preference for freshly-killed animals in China––even though China has been identified as the source of most avian and other transmittable flu viruses going back to the 1918 “Spanish Flu” which killed 50 million people worldwide––is “the indifference or perception of people who simply regard animals as food, tools, or as things that people can do anything they want to. In particular, there is no perception of farm animals as having feelings, or being capable of feeling pain or suffering.”
Is animal suffering enough to win people over?
There is evidence to support the belief that most people in modern western society recognize that other animal species have feelings and can experience at least pain and fear, but how much does this recognition count in their thinking and buying behavior?
In a recent discussion with a fellow animal rights activist, we shared our concern that animals and animal rights still have little traction with the general public. Animals and animal rights seem to need to be bundled into arguments on behalf of health, taste, convenience, cost, the environment, and other issues in order to be heard.
That said, there are, I believe, images, and not just mirages, of light in the long slog for animals and animal liberation. We do reach people with our message, just not enough people yet. Hopefully, human moral evolution is happening and animal advocates are helping to make it happen.
Ending the traffic in animals
Since we are in the midst of a factual and perceptual muddle where animals are concerned, we must do what we can in our individual lifetimes to advocate for, and embody to the best of our ability, the world that we want to exist for all sentient beings and habitations on Earth. This of course means working to end the sorrowful traffic in animals, by weaning others and ourselves if we’re still complicit, from choosing to mistreat and consume animals, whether they are obviously animals in the wet markets of traditional culture, or less obviously animals in the meat cases of Walmart, Whole Foods and their like.
Michael Standaert. Appetite for ‘warm meat’ drives risk of disease in Hong Kong and China. The Guardian, January 23, 2020.
For more on the sources of contagious influenza viruses, see Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) – What You Need to Know.
For the latest accurate peer-reviewed information on the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, and other zoonotic disease outbreaks around the world, visit https://www.promedmail.org.
Karen Davis, Ph.D., a frequent ANIMALS 24-7 guest columnist, is president and founder of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl including a sanctuary for chickens in Virginia.
Jamaka Petzak says
“…”…The fact that animals are suffering and dying for appetites that can be satisfied by plant-based foods makes some, perhaps many, people uncomfortable, though not necessarily out of guilt. People get annoyed that you are bothering them about animals, trying to curtail their freedom and uncover a guilt they may or may not feel, so that some end up feeling “guilty” because they don’t feel guilty, just vexed that they’re being victimized.”
Indeed. My roommates, both of whom enthusiastically consume large quantities of meat, are interested in my very different diet, so I have been sharing information about it when they ask and when they offer me some of what they are eating. They don’t seem to be at all hostile when I share these facts and thoughts with them; both of them are interested in their own health, but neither of them shows any signs of even small substitutions in diet after almost 7 weeks here. When they ask or show interest, though, I will continue to offer information. They both point out how “healthy” I am in their eyes, at least; so if nothing else, that may stand as an example.
Sharing to socials with gratitude.
There are coronaviruses in many species. Canine coronavirus causes
rather minor gut disease. Feline coronavirus causes minor gut disease but mutates to the deadly FIP virus in some cats. There are now two antiviral drugs available on the black market that could change the 100% fatal FIP into a treatable disease. However, treatment will be expensive.
Cats are obligate carnivores and cannot stay healthy on plant diets
That, of course, is not true of dogs. However, meat protein seems to indicate higher quality dog food to most people. Hopefully, the push for grain-free dog foods has stopped due to dogs dying of dilated cardiomyopathy associated with grain-free diets.
A question I do have is how to utilize areas of land that are not tillable. Those areas can feed sheep, goats, and cattle.
Has anyone definitively discovered where the Wuhan coronavirus came from? Having been at a physician’s office on Thursday, the staff already has a questionnaire for symptoms of coronavirus. Still, I don’t see how there is any preventing it from going through the USA. Time now will tell.
Merritt Clifton says
Estimates vary as to how much non-arable land is used for livestock grazing, worldwide, but the net food yield from this land is a mere fraction of the potential yield for humans from the 40% of arable land that is currently used to feed livestock, according to the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization. If even some of that land was used to feed humans, returning all non-arable land to wildlife would have no negative effect on the human food supply.
Karen Davis says
All cities in the U.S. have live animal markets in areas occupied by “old-world” ethnic populations, in particular Jewish, Hispanic, Muslim, and Asian. Currently, residents in Alexandria, Virginia outside Washington, DC are fighting to keep a Muslim live bird market from opening in the city. Live bird markets are linked to frequent avian influenza outbreaks in the U.S. (In Asia, these disease-ridden shops which slaughter birds on site are called “wet” markets.) Each year, New York and New Jersey markets alone sell more than 80 million chickens and other birds brought in from places no one keeps track of. Many of these birds are visibly sick, as can be seen in Inside a Live Poultry Market, a DVD/VHS tape of a New York City bird market in the Bronx produced by United Poultry Concerns. Although live markets are considered “time bombs” with respect to bird flu, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its state agency counterparts refuse to shut them down and pay mere lip service to regulating them. Protecting business trumps health, safety, sanitation, and animals at every level of the animal “food” industry.
Karen Davis, President, United Poultry Concerns http://www.upc-online.org