Ever since WiG added a pet section last year, countless stories have come to our attention demonstrating the surprising lengths that Americans go to care for their furry friends. At a time when senseless violence dominates the news, greed overwhelms our society and hateful, divisive rhetoric guides our political process, these stories remind us that the human heart still beats strong.
The manner in which people treat animals says a lot about them. Psychologists have discovered a strong correlation between cruelty to animals and a predisposition for violence toward people, marking them as a threat to society.
Although most animal abuse cases go unreported, those that do come to public attention face increasingly harsh penalties. Before 1986, only four states had felony animal cruelty laws on their books. Today, all 50 states have such laws, although punishments vary greatly in severity.
In addition to concern about their pets, a growing number of people are also questioning the treatment of the domesticated animals we eat. Scientists have discovered that mammals raised as food, like those bred for human companionship, possess the same levels of self-awareness, intelligence, personalities and emotions that pets do. That’s an uncomfortable thing for people who enjoy a pork chop or a steak to consider.
Until very recently the treatment of “farmed” animals was largely overlooked. A growing number of revelations about the brutal, torturous conditions under which factory farm animals suffer, however, has made it all but impossible to ignore the cruelty any longer.
Paul McCartney once said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarians.” Posing as slaughterhouse workers, members of groups such as Mercy for Animals have made and released numerous videos of the heinous abuse that awaits factory farm animals at the end of their miserable lives. They’ve lifted the curtains.
In response, Big Ag has given money to lawmakers to introduce so-called “ag-gag” bills that make it a crime to video or photograph abuse. Eight states have enacted such laws, but a federal judge struck down a bill in Idaho, raising First Amendment questions about all such laws.
Wisconsin Republicans planned to introduce an ag-gag law in the state last year but apparently decided to put the idea on hold.
The revelations about factory farms are changing how Americans eat. The number of vegetarians and vegans in the United States skyrocketed from 1 percent in 2009 to 5 percent — or 16 million people — last year. Raw Food World reports that roughly 42 percent of people who’ve given up consumption of animal products cite an educational film with prompting their decision. Sixty-nine percent said they chose to eat a vegan diet to support the ethical treatment of animals.
Food producers didn’t object to the cruelty, but they are responding to the shift in consumer behavior. In October, Starbucks joined McDonald’s, Unilever, Burger King, Walmart and other major food providers in setting a specific timeline to switch over to cage-free egg suppliers. Although the term “cage free” doesn’t mean what it sounds like, it’s better than the alternative.
But male chicks continue to be dumped alive into meat grinders.
Aware consumers are also influencing lawmakers. Nine states, including the agricultural behemoth California, have banned battery cages, which pile chickens together in such small quarters that many are crushed to death. States have also banned gestation crates, which confine pregnant pigs to cages so small that they can’t stand or move.
Those actions represent the start of a revolution in the way Americans think about the treatment of animals, and we urge readers to join in. Support animal welfare groups. Contact your elected officials are urge them to vote no on bills such as ag gag. Ask restaurants if they use “cage free” eggs and where they source their meat and dairy products.
As Czech writer Milan Kundera put it, “Humanity’s true moral test, its fundamental test … consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.”
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