Farm Animals in the News: Ethical Questions, Few Answers

Posted by Dana Campbell, ALDF Attorney on August 4, 2008

Last week well-traveled New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof copped to being a hypocrite in a column about farm animals’ rights (or as I say “plights”) because he both enjoys eating animal products and desires to see animals treated humanely, including those eventually slaughtered for food. I know he’s certainly not alone in feeling guilty about this incongruity, and as I thought about this more I began to wonder about how I felt about this rarely admitted hypocrisy within those who are gaining awareness of animals’ suffering but stuck in old habits. I learned my feelings are mixed, flip-floppy, complicated.

Surely much good work has been done on behalf of animals by people who eat them, and yet aren’t these same folks adding to the problem by contributing to the market demand for meat? Does the fact that folks like Kristof, who openly admit to being inconsistent, mean we should discount or dismiss their work? Or should we acknowledge their honesty and human frailty in the face of ethical dilemmas and embrace their ability to help craft a better tomorrow for animals? How many thousands of people will read and be influenced by his column, maybe not today but over time, partly because they can relate to Kristof’s conundrum?

And what if those of us doing animal protection work call him out on his hypocrisy? Do we have an obligation to do so? Will we lose credibility and the chance to later convince others to adopt more ethical eating habits by castigating Kristoff–and by extension his like-minded conflicted readers–by attacking them at the beginning of their path to an eventual animal-free diet? If the answers are yes, yes, and yes, should we do so anyway? What is the risk and the net cost?

How ironic then that on the same day Kristof’s column ran came news from the New Jersey Supreme Court, who ruled that the standards of care for domestic livestock issued by the state’s Agriculture Department were not humane and failed to comply with a legislative mandate to create humane standards. The Ag Department basically tried to get by with having all “routine husbandry practices” suffice as legally sufficient standards.

This ruling is unprecedented in the U.S., and was about 8 years in the making. It was also unanimous, and while it was not a complete victory, specifically striking down tail-docking but not addressing downers and gestation crates, the court seemed to leave the door open to doing so later if presented with more evidence on these practices. Even those justices have drawn a line in the legal sand between what they find permissible and abhorrent. Can the greater public be far behind?

3 thoughts on “Farm Animals in the News: Ethical Questions, Few Answers

  1. Barbara Doyle says:

    It can be a hard decision psychologically, but the actual lifestyle of not eating animal products is so rewarding. You know you’re helping animals every day. First comment!

  2. John Hixenbaugh says:

    I too share this conflict. I’ve given up red meat, but still eat chicken and turkey…but, like others, I’m on the road to vegetarianism.
    A friend of mine asked why animal activism is not more prevalent on television. Why doesn’t Animal Planet have reality shows about factory farming and the like? I told him that it’s not on television because no one wants to see it. No one wants to see how their food is made. I think a tremendous number of people live with this guilt and go to extremes to avoid the in-your-face reality. Having joined ALDF, PETA, ASPCA, NRDC, and others, I can’t get away from the images. Once you’ve seen the images, the conflict becomes nearly impossible to reconcile. The truth is that once you’ve been to Fast-Food Nation, there’s no traveling back.

  3. Ian says:

    Go vegan!

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