We have a lot to apologize for. I live in a country where we kill 5 million animals for fur, 18 million for classroom use, 20 million for research, 220 million for hunting, and a whopping 7 billion for food. We don’t just kill them, we engage in a systematic orgy of gratuitous cruelty. The way they are reared, transported and finally slaughtered, if you only knew, would make your flesh creep.
Animal abuse has a long and shameful history. A Descartes-like view prevailed for a long time of animals as ‘machines’ over which the Lord had given dominion to humans. Their heartless exploitation led to some anti-cruelty laws in the 19th century. These laws, both at national and state levels, have now been virtually eviscerated and the situation in the US is getting worse.
But the biggest loophole is that these laws apply mostly to domestic animals and don’t apply to farm animals, who represent the vast majority of the seven billion animals killed each year. This huge population has no protection from appalling cruelty. Because these animals are destined to be killed for food, the sickening assumption is that anything goes. Pigs are castrated, their tails chopped, without anesthetic. For better veal, calves are given only liquid diet and forced in stalls they can’t move. Crippled or day-old animals that can’t walk are dragged to their slaughter. Conscious animals are shackled and hoisted by a hind leg for a coup de grace. Chicken beaks are sliced and they are confined in the smallest space possible; laying hens are starved to force them to the next laying cycle; male chicks are simply suffocated.
As a result, people in general are unaware of the horrendous treatment. To hide the reality of suffering animals, meat always arrives in a consumer’s kitchen reshaped, cooked, artfully packaged, with not a hint of the blood and anguish involved. The food industry has developed an extensive vocabulary of deception: cows come to our table as beef, calves as veal, deer as venison, sheep as mutton and pigs as bacon, sausage or pork. It refers to animals as biomachines and grain-consuming or food-producing units.
Gandhi insisted that the moral progress of a country was to be judged by its treatment of its most helpless denizens, the animals. All pretences apart, we don’t seem to have advanced much.