A million animals an hour

Patrick Miner

Though perhaps not a prime news subject at the moment, animal rights is always a current topic. Throughout history, people have seen their nonhuman counterparts as lesser subjects despite being equally susceptible to the rigors of an unbiased natural world. We have always captured and killed them – spurring the suggestion that such behavior is written “in our nature.”
In the 21st century, the role of nonhuman animals is much the same as it always has been. They are used. Modern terminology might explain that animals have come to be ingredients in the production of consumer goods. While wood and steel are used to make new homes, animals are used to make the meals for their inhabitants and to clothe the children who are unwitting participants in an everyday violence.
In his 1975 book, “Animal Liberation,” Peter Singer defines the term “speciesism” as “a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species.” The term is analogous to racism and sexism in function and scope. Most people are speciesists.
In the early 19th century United States, both the African-American and women’s rights movements were seen as laughable by the vast majority of racists and sexists (namely white men). Violence and suppression were commonplace; early writers in the movements were parodied; the concept of equality between all races and genders was marginal, radical and ignored.
But in the last two hundred years, a great deal of progress has been made in these movements. Women and African-Americans have struggled and suffered immensely for this progress, but it is finally quantifiable. There is much to be done to fight racism and sexism, but no one can now claim these causes to be radical or laughable.
Today, all people face a question on their treatment of animals: why do we kill, maim and abuse them? And why is this behavior the norm? As opposed to violence based on sexism and racism, which is now viewed very negatively by everyone save its perpetrators, why do we feel this routine violence is acceptable?
Many people would argue that there are a great deal of differences between people and animals, and therefore this parallel is irrelevant. There are many differences. All women and men, for instance, share many more similarities than any one animal and any one person, but the notion of equality cannot be based merely on attributes.
People can be intelligent and gifted no matter their race or gender identity. But here we find a snag: individual merit and ability vary across every societal label, yet we do not exclude from our ideal of equality those with a lesser capacity for education or a certain skill.
Singer uses the hypothetical example of IQ-based discrimination: “The interests of all those with IQ scores below 100 [are] given less consideration than the interests of those with ratings over 100. Perhaps those scoring below the mark would, in this society, be made the slaves of those scoring higher.”
He concludes, “The principle of the equality of human beings is not a description of an alleged actual equality among humans: It is a prescription of how we should treat human beings.”
We should treat animals with respect and dignity because they too are members of the planet. They have children and families. They suffer and actively seek to avoid pain. We must not strip them of their lives merely for lacking human rationality.
According to the Department of Agriculture, 10.45 billion land animals were slaughtered for food in the United States in 2006. That’s 35 land animals for every person in the country, or 1.2 million land animals killed per hour, every hour of every day. How many people could personally bring themselves to kill 35 animals per year?
Reliable data are not available on the number of aquatic animal deaths because they are so numerous. None of the figures cited here account for deaths due to experimentation, hunting, fishing or euthanasia at pounds.
The fact of the matter is, each person who consumes meat is a speciesist and is responsible for these deaths. Lawrence students kill approximately 50,000 land animals per year.
The consequences of our actions are not limited to questions of morality. In 2006, The U.N. published a report titled “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” in which it was documented that “overall, livestock activities contribute an estimated 18 percent to total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions,” which is more than the carbon emissions from cars, buses and airplanes. Cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon.
It’s unclear what number will finally bring someone to consider the suffering and deaths she or he causes. We need to realize that we, daily, are participating in the mass slaughter of innocent beings, and that our attempts at worldwide peace will lead nowhere until we cease to celebrate a culture of killing.