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Archive for December 2009

Saving the planet one meal at a time

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By Ingrid E. Newkirk

Last week, I addressed a “green” conference on economic sustainability in Mumbai, India. The talk, other than the argument about whether we could survive in a room without air conditioning, was mostly about how much shucking and jiving the U.S. had done in Copenhagen, all in an effort not to commit to anything terribly serious regarding changes that nations must make to combat climate change. The Indians felt pretty good about their nation’s commitments, particularly to cut emissions and to fund energy projects such as those using biofuel from plants. Activists returning from Denmark, with precious little to show from the conference except truncheon bruises, were united in the idea that if people want to make change happen, we have to do it ourselves and pass on what we know to others.

It shouldn’t be news anymore that the most important thing that we can do for the planet is not to use less holiday gift wrap — it is to go vegan. That’s because it is impossible to be a meat-eating, milk-drinking environmentalist. Meat and milk are not “green,” which makes it all the more shocking that our government has decided to help large dairy farms use newfangled machines to deal with methane gas burped up by all those cows rather than helping to wean America off its ugly, fatty, Earth-destroying dairy habit. Actually, meat and milk are anti-green! Of course, such remarks give those who have grown up with or acquired a taste for meat and cheese cause for consternation to add to their constipation. No one likes change. Witness the handwritten sign on a little jar at an airport coffee stand that read, “Afraid of change? If so, leave yours here.”

How about some dry facts to go with the dry sherry this season? A 200-pound man will burn off at least 2,000 calories a day even if he stays in bed the whole time and watches food commercials or football. He consumes most of those 2,000 calories simply to keep his eyes open, breathe, and otherwise keep his body functioning. If he leaps up to scream at the screen when the other side does something untoward, he will burn even more calories. In the same way, most of what is fed to farmed animals in those crowded, filthy sheds is burned off, simply because animals have to breathe, stand, blink, and―because of the throat-burning ammonia vapors rising from the waste accumulating beneath them―cough and choke.

It’s bizarre, really: In order to eat meat and drink packaged milk, we take a crop like soybeans, oats, corn, or wheat, which are all rich in protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates―the things we need―and totally devoid of cholesterol and artery-clogging saturated fat―the things we don’t need and shouldn’t have. We feed it to a chicken or pig to create a product with no fiber or complex carbohydrates at all but with megadoses of cholesterol and saturated fat! All bad for us and bad for the Earth and bad for animals. It makes about as much sense as taking a glass of sparkling Evian, running it through a sewer, and then drinking it.

As most people must now be aware or should be, in November 2006, the United Nations released a massive report that details the environmental consequences of consuming animal “products.” It’s called Livestock’s Long Shadow, and it concludes that raising chickens, pigs, and other animals for food is one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every level, from local to global. So, no matter what environmental issue you’re looking at―from land and crop use to water pollution to air pollution to climate change―funneling crops through animals in order to create meat is one of the top causes of the problem. So much for wrapping paper!

Here are some more facts: It takes about 6 to 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of animal flesh. If we have to grow massive amounts of vegetable matter―with all the tilling, irrigation, and herbicides and pesticides and other chemicals that are now used―transport all that grain and soybeans to factory-style farms and dairies, feed it to all the land animals raised for food, transport those animals to automated slaughter facilities and dairies, take the dead animals to processing centers, run the processing and packaging machines, and then take the packaged meat to food outlets and butchers’ stalls―well, there’s a lot of energy being used up at each one of those stages. And in case anyone is saying, “But they don’t slaughter dairy cows,” dream on! There is no retirement home for the millions upon millions of cows kept for milk, butter, and cheese.

If all this energy is being used, all these fossil fuels are being burned, and all this manure is being produced, then we’re talking serious air pollution. Many environmentalists would sooner walk than drive in order to decrease air pollution, yet many eat meat and dairy products without realizing that they are paying for gas-guzzling animal-transport vehicles, refrigerated meat and dairy trucks, pollution-spewing processing plants, and so on. Where the environment is concerned, eating meat is like driving a 16-wheeler and leaving the engine running all the time. Eating a vegetarian diet is like riding a motorbike, and eating a vegan diet is like riding a bicycle.

More horrors: According to Diet for a New America and The Food Revolution author John Robbins, the average vegan uses about one-sixth of an acre of land to satisfy his or her food requirements for an entire year; the average vegetarian who consumes eggs and dairy products, like cow’s milk, real cheese toppings on pizza, and even non-soy yogurt, requires about three times as much land; and the average meat-eater requires about 20 times as much land. Obviously, a lot more of the food grown on any given parcel of land can be made available to humans if it’s not being funneled through animals first.

Raising animals for food also requires about as much water as all other water uses combined, even as many areas of the world are experiencing extreme drought conditions. Just outside Mumbai, farmers have been committing suicide in their dry, cracked fields, leaving widows with nothing: There are no government-sponsored bereavement benefits. It takes about four times as much water to feed a vegetarian as it does to feed a vegan and 14 times as much water to feed a meat-eater. And, if you have to feed animals, you have to irrigate the crops that you feed to them and you have to give them water too. You have to hose down the factory farms and slaughterhouses with water. It’s all very water-intensive.

Raising animals for food is water-polluting as well. One “dairy cow” produces more than 100 pounds of excrement per day, and it is estimated that the animals raised for food in the U.S., for example, produce 130 times the excrement of the entire human population of our country. Add to this delightful image the fact that animal excrement is more concentrated than human excrement and is often contaminated with herbicides, pesticides, toxic chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, and so on.

Massive factory farms generally don’t have waste-treatment plants. Instead, the manure is poured onto land or into giant lagoons, where it often spills over into local waterways, killing fish and poisoning the drinking water that people depend on. All over the world, streams and rivers that once were clear and full of fish are now lifeless because of manure runoff from factory farms. In the Gulf of Mexico, there’s an enormous “dead zone” the size of the entire state of New Mexico, where no fish or other animals can live. This is because of the enormous amount of animal waste that has flowed from filthy factory farms into rivers and streams.

As for the forests, they are being destroyed to create grazing space for cattle. Greenpeace published a report in 2006 specifically blaming the chicken industry for leading the way in the destruction of the Amazon, and it unveiled a banner in the Amazon that read, “KFC: Amazon Criminal,” because that company’s chickens were fed soybeans that had been grown in the rain forest.
Finally, there is something fishy going on. One super-trawler is the length of a football field and takes in 800,000 pounds of fish in a single netting. These trawlers scrape along the ocean floor, destroying coral reefs and everything else in their way, and hydraulic dredges scoop up huge chunks of the ocean floor to sift out scallops, clams, and oysters. Most of what the fishing fleets get isn’t even eaten by human beings. Half is fed to animals raised for food, and each year, about 30 million tons of dead sea animals are just tossed back overboard, disturbing the natural biological balance. Commercial fishing fleets are destroying sensitive aquatic ecosystems at a rate that is beyond comprehension. A major study found that in just the last 50 years, commercial fishing has reduced the populations of all large fish species by a staggering 90 percent.

The new “fishing” is aquaculture, which is increasing at a rate of more than 10 percent annually. This horrific invention takes up to 5 pounds of wild-caught fish to reap 1 pound of farmed fish. Farmed fish are often raised in the same water that wild fish swim in, but fish farmers dump antibiotics into the water and use genetic engineering to create unnaturally large fish. The antibiotics contaminate the oceans and seas, and the genetically altered fish sometimes escape and breed with wild fish, throwing delicate aquatic balances off kilter. Researchers at the University of Stockholm demonstrated that the horrible environmental influence of fish farms can extend to an area 50,000 times larger than the farm itself, an amazing indictment.

The choice is clear: We demonstrate our environmental values every time we sit down to eat by choosing to eat vegan, vegetarian or non-vegetarian foods. But if we choose to be vegan or vegetarian, what can we eat? Let’s see now, since India has arguably done more than any other country to cut omissions, let’s start with some of their choices:

Dumplings and naan,

Samosas and pakoras,

Coconut curry,

Mangoes and guava,

And channa masala.

Not up for Indian food? Try

Three-bean chili or seven-bean soup,

Roasted chestnuts and grilled asparagus,

Spinach croquettes, fancy nut rissole

Gardenburger cutlets, rice and eggplant casserole

Szechuan noodles and tomato ziti,

Avocado sushi, fresh baked crostini,

Tofurky sweet Italian sausages, squash

Soy cheese and spinach lasagna, Waldorf salad – just toss

Polenta-stuffed peppers, Russian borscht

Barbecue tofu and Boca burgers, of course.

Spicy bean burritos and English vegetarian stew,

Lentil soup, tomato soup with croutons, sautéed kale too,

Grilled portobello mushrooms, ginger tofu stir fry,

Humus, falafel and faux chicken pot pie.

Blueberry pancakes, raspberry sorbet,

Strawberry crêpes, Almond cashew brulee

Peanut butter cups, Chocolate soy cheesecake,

  Banana split, mango slices, how much can you take?

Cherries jubilee, rhubarb pudding, baba rhum

The list’s hardly ho hum.

What do I eat all the time?

Crusty pizza with artichoke, onion, olive and tomato

Lo mein noodles, not dogs, and garlic mashed potato

Melon balls, orange surprise, grilled tempeh steak

Meatless meatballs and enchilada bake,

Avocado Reubens and veggie baked “ham,”

Lemon poppy seed muffins, apples, and yam

Soy lattes, and non-dairy ice cream,

Pumpkin chocolate chip walnut bread, what a dream!

What was that question now?

What can we eat? 

Really, I think I’ll survive  

Without milk and meat. 

Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president and founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org. Her book One Can Make a Difference: How Simple Actions Can Change the World is now available in paperback.

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Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

December 29, 2009 at 7:42 pm

Posted in vegetarian diets

Jellyfish invasion a sign of trouble to come

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  • by Paula Moore

    World leaders who attended the U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen probably didn’t discuss the invasion of the jellyfish, but perhaps they should have. While it might sound like the stuff of a B horror movie, millions of jellyfish—some the size of refrigerators—are swarming coastlines from Spain to New York and Japan to Hawaii. Last month, these marauders sank a 10-ton fishing trawler off the coast of Japan after the boat’s crew tried to haul in a net containing dozens of huge Nomura jellyfish—giants who can weigh up to 450 pounds each. 

    The best way to fight this growing menace is with our forks.

    Scientists believe that a combination of climate change, pollution and overfishing is causing the boom in jellyfish populations. Leaving animals, including fish, off our dinner plates will combat all three problems.

    Unless you’ve been living under a rock—or perhaps in a McDonald’s—you probably know that raising animals for food is not doing the planet any favors. Today’s meat factories spew greenhouse gasses, gobble up precious resources, contaminate the air and pollute the water. According to a U.N. report, the meat industry generates 40 percent more greenhouse gasses than all the cars, trucks, SUVs, ships and planes in the world combined. Hello, jellies: Almost all jellyfish breed better and faster in warmer waters.

    Animal factories are also among the causes of ocean “dead zones,” as excrement from factory farms makes its way to streams and rivers and, ultimately, to the open seas, resulting in toxic algae blooms. While other sea animals die off in dead zones—hence the name—jellyfish not only survive but also thrive. 

    The commercial fishing industry must also share the blame for the jelly boom.

    The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 80 percent of the world’s fisheries are now either overexploited, fully exploited, significantly depleted or recovering from overexploitation. That’s not surprising: Indiscriminate fishing practices, such as the use of miles-long nets and longlines with thousands of individually baited hooks, are stripping the oceans clean of sea life. And fish farms make the devastation of our oceans even worse, as many farmed fish are fed ocean-caught fish. It takes about 3 pounds of ocean-caught fish to produce just 1 pound of farmed fish.

    A study published in the journal Nature found that the number of large predatory fish—such as tuna and swordfish—has declined by 90 percent. These are the same fish who help keep jellyfish populations in check. In the Mediterranean, overfishing of both large and small fish has left jellyfish with few predators and little competition for food.

    While jellyfish invasions are a nuisance to beachgoers and a burden to businesses—swarms of jellyfish have decimated fishing industries in the Bering and Black seas, clogged water-intake pipes at nuclear power plants in Japan and forced beach closings from the Great Barrier Reef of Australia to Waikiki in the U.S.—they are also a sign of a more profound problem.

    According to Dr. Josep-María Gili, a leading jellyfish expert in Spain, “These jellyfish near shore are a message the sea is sending us saying, ‘Look how badly you are treating me.'”

    We need to take steps now to improve the health of our oceans—before they become fit only for jellyfish. While our world leaders debate the best ways to curb climate change and end overfishing, we don’t have to wait. Each of us can start eating our way to a smaller ecological footprint simply by choosing healthy, sustainable vegan foods that are easier on the planet and its inhabitants. 

    Paula Moore is a research specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

  • Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

    December 29, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    This Christmas, just say ‘No’ to that doggie in the window

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    By Lindsay Pollard-Post

    Who hasn’t had the experience of receiving a Christmas gift that they didn’t really want? An embarrassing reindeer sweater from Aunt Edna, a useless as-seen-on-TV gadget or a tacky tie are easy enough to return, re-gift or toss in the attic and forget. But when someone makes the mistake of giving a living, breathing, feeling animal as a “gift,” the consequences can be disastrous. 

    In the days, weeks and months following the holidays, animal shelters across the country are flooded with animals who were given as “gifts,” only to be tossed out like last year’s fruitcake when the novelty wore off or when their guardians discovered that caring for rambunctious puppies and kittens is a full-time job.

    One animal shelter in Texas reported a 25 percent increase in its population after the holidays as people gave up animals they had received as gifts. Most animal shelters are already bursting at the seams year-round with homeless animals. When the flood of surrendered animals hits after the holidays, shelter workers face the heartbreaking prospect of having to euthanize healthy, friendly, loving cats and dogs in order to make room for the newcomers. 

    Of course, many less fortunate animals don’t end up in shelters, where they are safe, warm, fed, cared for and loved. Some people banish their dogs to a lonely life on a chain or in a cage in the backyard. Others hand their animals over to anyone who will take them, or they advertise them “free to a good home,” putting their animals in danger of being used as bait by dogfighters, sold to a laboratory for experiments or even abused by cruel people. Still others simply dump unwanted animals on the streets or in the woods, where they are likely to starve, get hit by cars or freeze to death.

    That’s why if you’re thinking about giving a furry friend as a gift this Christmas, it’s vital to stick to the kind found in toy stores, not pet stores. Animals aren’t like other gifts. They require lots of time, patience and money—all of which are scarce during the holidays. That cute puppy or kitten won’t seem like much of a “present” after he chews up a priceless heirloom quilt, decides to use the Christmas tree as a fire hydrant, turns the house into a flea circus and racks up hundreds of dollars in vet bills.

    Adding an animal companion to the family is an important decision that requires making a lifetime commitment to care for and spend time with an animal. A new puppy or kitten could be a part of the family for 15 years or longer, so it’s important not to rush the decision and to find an animal who is a good match for his or her guardian’s activity level, experience, abilities and personality.

    If your loved one is prepared to make a lifelong commitment to a four-legged dependent and has plenty of time, money, patience and love to give, consider giving a “gift certificate” for an animal from a local shelter. That way, the recipient can decide which animal is best for them—and when. You’ll be giving more than the gift of unconditional love and companionship—you’ll also be giving the gift of life to a homeless animal.

    Lindsay Pollard-Post is a research specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.HelpingAnimals.com.

    Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

    December 18, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Posted in animal companions

    If chimpanzees could talk, what would they say?

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    By Kathy Guillermo

    According to a recent study published in the journal Nature, scientists have discovered that a gene called FOXP2, which is believed to be responsible for the evolution of speech in humans, behaves differently in humans than it does in chimpanzees, our closest living relatives. The gene produces a protein in humans that differs by just two amino acids from chimpanzees’ FOXP2 protein. Think about it—if not for those two amino acids, chimpanzees might be able to talk. If they could speak, what would they say?

    Actually, we already know what they would say, thanks to the work of people such as Roger Fouts, a professor at Central Washington University who is famous for teaching chimpanzees American Sign Language (ASL). Fouts’ most famous pupil is Washoe, who was the first nonhuman animal to learn ASL and who, in turn, taught it to her adopted son, Loulis. Washoe spontaneously combined words to describe her experiences and desires, using expressions such as “you me hide” and “listen dog.” She also invented names for her possessions, referring to her doll, for instance, as “Baby Mine.” She was even known to fib and tell jokes.

    Perhaps Fouts’ second most famous pupil is Booee, a chimpanzee who was taught ASL while he was “on loan” to Fouts. More than a decade later—after Booee had been reclaimed and sent to a laboratory where he was subjected to hepatitis experiments—the TV show 20/20 approached Fouts about reuniting with Booee on camera. Although worried by the prospect of upsetting Booee, Fouts agreed in the hope that the reunion, which would be watched by millions of people, could potentially help Booee and other chimpanzees in laboratories.

    I will never forget the footage of Roger entering the laboratory and signing, “Hi, Booee. You remember?” Booee, who had been sitting despondently in his small cage a moment earlier, jumped up and down in excitement, signing his name, “Booee, Booee, Booee,” over and over again. “Yes, you Booee,” Roger signed back. Remembering that Fouts always carried treats, Booee asked for them, even using an old nickname that he had invented for Roger—a flick of his ear with his finger. He and Fouts spent the next several minutes playing games of “chase” and “tickle” like they used to do all those years ago.

    As Fouts had hoped, viewers were touched by the joyful reunion, and they were heartbroken when they watched Booee move dejectedly to the back of his cage when the time came to say goodbye. Because of the subsequent outcry, Booee was sent to a sanctuary months later, where he still lives.

    Unfortunately, more than 1,000 other chimpanzees remain caged, lonely and miserable in laboratories, despite overwhelming evidence that they are highly intelligent, sensitive animals. They are injected with drugs, infected with diseases that they would never normally contract and subjected to traumatic psychological experiments. When they’re not strapped to a table, they languish in cages—often in windowless rooms—that bear no resemblance to their natural forest and jungle homes. Their spirits are broken from years of needles, scalpels, toxins, pain, solitude, fear and the overwhelming nothingness of waking up, day after day, in a cold metal box.

     

    The U.K., Japan, Austria, New Zealand and the Netherlands have prohibited the use of great apes for invasive research and testing. The U.S. is the only country in the world that continues large-scale use of chimpanzees in experiments. That may change if The Great Ape Protection Act—a bill that would phase out the use of chimpanzees in invasive research and retire federally owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries—ever becomes law.

    If chimpanzees could talk, they would almost certainly say, “Let me out,” as one of Booee’s fellow inmates signed. Yes, it’s time to let them out. They are not test tubes with fur. They have thoughts, feelings and desires. It’s time to let them be chimpanzees.

    Kathy Guillermo is the vice president of laboratory investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.StopAnimalTests.com.

    Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

    December 14, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    If activists are silenced, who speaks for the animals?

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    In the last few years-ever since the passage of the chilling Animal Enterprises Terrorism Act and the implementation of an earlier incarnation of the law-the free speech rights of some animal activists have been trampled in McCarthy-like fashion. People who spoke at public events about the torment that animals are forced to endure in laboratories, sent faxes in protest, ran an informational Web site and organized and attended protests on public property-activities associated with constitutionally protected free speech-found themselves facing prosecution as “terrorists.”

    This should give all Americans pause. People who engage in nonviolent protests and civil disobedience are sitting in jail cells, stigmatized by one of the most politically charged and discrediting labels of our time, while people who wake up every morning and go to jobs in which they torment and kill animals in laboratories continue to enjoy their freedom, paychecks, social lives and families.

    As a case in point, PETA just released the findings of an eight-month undercover investigation at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Wearing a hidden camera, our investigator documented circumstances that violate our moral sensibilities about how we ought to treat animals and represent what we believe are dozens of violations of federal laws and guidelines governing the treatment of dogs, cats, rabbits, monkeys, mice, rats and pigs.

    Tiny mice with grotesque tumors were left to suffer from cancers that had nearly grown bigger than their bodies. Laboratory workers couldn’t even manage to make sure that all mice had water, and one worker admitted that mice in the laboratory die of dehydration “all the time.”

    Monkeys were kept deprived of water so that they would cooperate during experiments in exchange for a sip. Imagine these animals’ lives: They had holes drilled into their skulls and metal hardware attached to their heads. They live in tiny cages, all alone, without even the touch and comfort of a companion. They are so emotionally and physically traumatized that they constantly whirl or rock back and forth. And on top of all this, they are always thirsty-so thirsty they’ll do almost anything for a few drops of water.

    Our investigation also revealed that shelters near Salt Lake City sell dogs and cats to this university as though they were disposable laboratory equipment. Our investigator’s video footage shows dogs at the shelter wagging their tails as lab techs approach their cages to assess whether they’d be good “subjects,” unaware of the invasive, painful tests that are about to be conducted on them. This is a betrayal of these vulnerable animals and also of the public, which counts on animal shelters to be havens for homeless animals.

    So think about it. People who drown, burn, cut open, shock, poison, starve, forcibly restrain, addict and inflict brain damage on helpless animals-whose only “offense” is that they weren’t born human-are walking among us, being granted tenure and promotions and receiving huge chunks of our tax dollars to bankroll their cruel and crude experiments. On the frequent occasions when they violate federal animal welfare laws in their laboratories, the government usually just asks them to pinky swear not to do it again. Meanwhile, compassionate people who are willing to speak up about one of the great injustices of our time and use nonviolent protest tactics to effect change for animals may be locked up.

    Like all other citizens and businesses, companies and people who abuse animals are already protected from violence and criminal acts by state and federal laws that have been used effectively by police and prosecutors to punish people who engage in illegal conduct against them. To shield them from public opinion and discussion and to protect them from peaceful and heretofore lawful pickets by locking up those who dare to challenge the suffering that occurs inside laboratories is an attack on every American’s right of protest.

    Justin Goodman is a research associate supervisor for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as well as an adjunct faculty member in the department of sociology and criminal justice at Marymount University in Arlington, Va. He may be reached c/o PETA at 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

    Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

    December 7, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    Pork for Dinner? In a Pig’s Eye

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    In a recent article for The New York Times, science writer Natalie Angier wrote about a study led by Dr. Donald Broom at the University of Cambridge in which 4- to 8-week-old piglets were introduced to a mirror in order to gauge their reactions. Even these extremely young pigs were quickly able to figure out that a bowl of food reflected in the mirror wasn’t behind the glass but rather was behind the pig.

    Angier also mentioned the recent release of the first draft sequence of the pig genome. A member of the team of biologists who worked on the project was quoted as saying that “the pig genome compares favorably with the human genome.” My immediate reaction was, yes, but how does our genome compare to the pig’s?

    After all, we are slow-thinking animals. It is not entirely our fault, but we can do better. Thanks to steady sales pitches and dishonest advertising, when someone asks, “What’s for dinner?” the mental image often conjured up is that of the prepared pot roast or chicken drumstick, not of what came before it. No one thinks, “A pig!” and starts imagining what it must have been like for that animal at the moment when he watched his fellows being killed by the machine or the knife just ahead of him in that strange, frightening place. We are used to a world in which we accept the Oscar Mayer jingle and the sight of children gathered around the “Wienermobile” singing gaily about how they would like to be a hot dog—a world in which parents scream bloody murder, not at the butcher and at the company exploiting their children but at the spoilsport idealist climbing atop the giant hot dog on wheels with a sign saying, “PIGS ARE FRIENDS, NOT FOOD.” It is all quite mad.

    This very odd dichotomy came home to me when I was a humane officer in Maryland. I had been called out to an abandoned farm and found the place in a mess. A dog had been left on his chain and had somehow survived, thanks to a bucket of dirty water. The horses and pigs had not. The barn was littered with broken bottles, left by the departing occupants of the farmhouse in the wake of a drunken party. In some stalls, the animals had cut their legs to ribbons on the shards before dying.

    Just as I was leaving the dark barn, I saw a movement back in a corner. Stepping carefully over to the straw, I found a little pig, too frail to stand. He couldn’t have weighed more than a few bags of flour. I took him in my arms and carried him out into the fresh air and, laying him down under a tree, went to the pump to get some water.

    He was too weak to raise his head, but he sipped the drops of water from my fingers, making little grunting noises of what could only be gratitude and relief. I sat with him, rocking him back and forth and talking to him until the van came to take him and the dog to the veterinary clinic. I had to stay behind to look for anything pointing to the whereabouts of the people who had done this to him and his fellows so I could charge them with cruelty.

    That evening, driving home, I began to think of what I could cook for dinner. Ah, I thought, I have pork chops in the freezer.
    Then it hit me. How could I pay someone to hurt a pig when here I was trying to prosecute people for doing the same sort of thing? I didn’t know then that pigs are routinely castrated without anesthetic and that they often have their tails cut off to prevent injuries from their fellow inmates who have become enraged by confinement. I hadn’t yet visited a slaughterhouse, but like anyone with a functional brain, I knew full well that they must be appalling places if you happen to have been born an animal labeled “food.”

    Some animals (but, paradoxically, not as a rule those humans kill in order to eat their corpses) kill and eat other animals. So far as we can tell, they have no choice. Humans have choice and are very proud of it. Instead of killing animals on the grounds that they are intellectually superior to the animals, they should stop killing animals and thereby demonstrate that they have more freedom of choice than other animals.

    Ingrid E. Newkirk is the founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the author of 12 books on animal protection, including PETA’s Practical Guide to Animal Rights, from which this essay was adapted. She can be reached c/o PETA at 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

    Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

    December 4, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    No ‘crocodile tears’ for tanking skins trade

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    By Paula Moore

    According to a recent USA Today article, the global economic downturn has taken a bite out of America’s alligator industry. With the sharp slump in sales of so-called “luxury” goods such as alligator bags and belts, fashion houses worldwide are placing fewer orders for exotic skins—and some American alligator farms are in danger of going belly-up as a result.

    Let me be the first to say, “Good riddance.”

    Alligators are bludgeoned with hammers and steel bars so that their skins can be turned into overpriced accessories. Snakes and lizards are skinned alive and left to die in agony. The routine cruelty in the exotic skins trade should make any caring consumer’s skin crawl, and the sooner this industry dies off, the better.

    When PETA went undercover at an alligator farm in Florida, our investigator documented workers smashing alligators over the head with aluminum bats in a crude attempt to kill them. Many animals continued to writhe and move after they had supposedly been killed.

    On other farms, according to Dr. Clifford Warwick, a specialist in reptile biology and welfare, alligators are shot or axed to death—or have a chisel smashed through their spinal cord with a hammer.

    Many alligator and crocodile farms are “supplemented” with “animals who have been taken from the wild and put into conditions that are very unhygienic, very cramped, very crowded,” says Warwick. “It’s quite a sad, stressful life.”

    Other reptiles fare no better. Lizards are decapitated and skinned. But because of their slow metabolism, they can stay alive for up to an hour after their heads are cut off—meaning that they are skinned alive.

    Pythons are stunned—but not killed—with a blow to the head. Then hoses are inserted into their mouths and they are pumped full of water, which causes the snakes to swell up like balloons. This loosens the skin.

    Workers then impale each snake’s head on a meat hook, rip the skin off and toss the animals’ peeled bodies onto a pile of other skinned snakes. After hours—or days—of unimaginable suffering, the snakes die from dehydration or shock.

    “Snakes are never killed in a good way,” Dr. Warwick says.

    More than a fifth of the world’s reptiles are now at risk for extinction—and the exotic skins trade is not helping. Most snakes are caught in the wild because it takes so long for farmed snakes to grow large enough for their skin to be usable. Dr. Mark Auliya, a scientific officer for TRAFFIC, an organization that helps monitor the international trade in wild animals, says that in Southeast Asia, some “large [snake] specimens are getting rarer and rarer.” The animals, he says, simply “cannot cope in the long term with the high out-take by the commercial skin trade.”

    What’s more, for every reptile who goes through the system legally, it is estimated that another one will be smuggled. According to Dr. Warwick, virtually every store that sells exotic skins has some hand in this illicit trade, whether they are aware of it or not.

    With so many choices available to us today, there’s no reason for designers to continue using real skins—and there’s no reason for consumers to buy them. Alligators, snakes and other animals should not have to suffer and die just for our coldblooded vanity.

    Paula Moore is a research specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org

    Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

    December 4, 2009 at 8:33 pm