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Spring 2005 - Act•ionLine

by Lee Hall | Spring 2005

Movement Watch

MOVEMENT WATCH is an update on recent and current campaigns in the animal advocacy movement, with brief, rights-based analyses. MOVEMENT WATCH does not provide a full overview of any listed advocacy group’s work. Campaigns and news items are selected for their legal and social significance.


Homeland security down on the farm

Christy Blomeke, grad student in Agricultural and Extension Education at Purdue, holds an assistantship at the Department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education at Indiana’s 4-H office.1 At first, the position’s responsibilities sound mundane. Things like helping judges at the state fair.

But there’s more. Blomeke researches an “alternative method of livestock identification and looking at a more efficient method of enrolling and verifying livestock animals within the 4-H program.” This involves retina imaging of beef cattle and sheep held by 4-H groups in seven counties throughout the state of Indiana. Blomeke’s conference presentations include “Animal Identification by Retinal Imaging and Applications for Biosecurity.”

Résumés such as Christy Blomeke’s represent a new trend: the merging of national security technology and agriculture.

The new U.S. Department of Homeland Security has stimulated the growth of biometrics — high-tech systems that record physical traits to distinguish one individual from another. Airlines are following suit, and the commercial market is expected to surge. Technology developed by IBM has customers buying groceries and renting videos with index finger scans. The technology is touted as a speedy shopping aid; but retailers, like state governments and healthcare industry leaders, also see its potential to keep tabs on clients’ and employees’ daily interactions.2

So it’s only a matter of time before biometrics is widely applied as a means to keep tabs on living property as well. A company named Optibrand combines retinal scans with a global positioning system to track individual cattle, recording where they’ve been and what they’ve eaten. The company claims that this technology will isolate outbreaks of mad cow disease. It’s already used by Swift, the country’s third biggest processor of cattle flesh.3

No rest for the weary foxes in Britain In December 2004, Trevor Adams of Scotland’s Buccleuch Hunt was acquitted of deliberately hunting a fox with dogs. It was the first test case of Scotland’s Protection of Wild Mammals Act of 2002. The sheriff who adjudicated the case declined to sentence Adams to six months in jail, opting instead for a legalistic response to the poorly drafted law. Considering the fox had passed Adams’s guns, the sheriff decided, the movement by Adams to follow with dogs did not technically violate the law. Fox hunters, restyled as “pest control,” are free to sally forth, as long as the dogs are under control and hunters make efforts to shoot any fox flushed from cover.4 This emphasis on guns, long typical of North American hunting, will transform the more formal practice in Britain. In its new form, the hunt continues. Britain has returned to the days of saboteurs following the hunt, now hoping to videotape hunters who run afoul of a largely unenforceable law. Scotland’s scenario has emboldened the hunters of England and Wales, where the new law is due to come into effect on 18th of February 2005. On the 19th, more than 250 groups of defiant hunters are due to take off in hot pursuit of foxes, hares, and deer. The League Against Cruel Sports, anxious to reassure members that the law is a victory, claims it will still stop foxes being chased for miles and then torn apart by dogs. Perhaps. Yet the hunts themselves have released figures showing that this fate still awaits slower foxes, and that guns have doubled the number of fox deaths. And now, rather than abandon the foxes who are quick and lucky enough to get to their dens, hunters use terriers to flush them out.

This text was modified on 25 August 2006.
 


Evidently, some cruelty is tolerable

The headline calls on the public to “Protect NJ Veal Calves!” The release, issued in late 2004, heralds the proposal of “humane legislation to prevent cruel veal production” in the state of New Jersey. Not all veal production, mind you — just the cruel type. Assembly bill 329 and Senate bill 159 would require that calves used for veal be given enough room to turn around and be fed a diet containing iron.5

Farm Sanctuary would turn the clock back to a time before the campaigns of thirty to forty years ago, through which the public was well educated to simply avoid veal. Remember the days when people from many walks of life just knew — and firmly told their dinner partners — that ordering veal wasn’t the right thing to do? Sorry, calves: Those days are over. Citing a letter from a dairy industry veterinarian, Farm Sanctuary describes the difference between non-crated calves and crated calves — the latter identified as the “white veal” that the group wants taken off menus.

To this end, the group asks New Jersey citizens to write to lawmakers and tell them that “[t]he veal bill will prohibit — intolerable cruelty by requiring that calves raised for veal have at least enough space to turn around and a diet that does not cause anemia.” Nary a mention of the dairy cows left to their lives of perpetual pregnancy, separation from their offspring, and, finally, slaughter.

Why are the feelings of cows for their young so carelessly and frequently pushed out of mind? How could the cows’ advocates bear to reduce the arguments to haggling about the hue of their calves’ flesh on a plate in some restaurant in New Jersey? The nineteenth-century writer Thomas De Quincey, who spent early childhood in rural England, wrote:

Cows are amongst the gentlest of breathing creatures; none show more passionate tenderness to their young when deprived of them; and, in short, I am not ashamed to profess a deep love for these quiet creatures.

Yet the interests of cows are so commonly disregarded that the name for property is derived from the same word as cattle. In Beyond Beef, Jeremy Rifkin observes that many European languages used the word “cattle” as a synonym for “chattel” and “capital.” Even the Latin word for money, pecunia, comes from pecus, meaning cattle. Cows were used as a standard medium of exchange in ancient Middle Eastern, North African, and Mediterranean cultures; and Greek parents often gave their female children cattle-derived names to highlight their value to male suitors.

The modern animal advocacy movement began to challenge these degrading traditions in earnest by convincing large segments of society that consuming young cows is wrong. The movement and its writers have been far more tolerant, however, of the dairy industry. Yet objecting to dairy is absolutely necessary if veal production is to end. If advocates decline to confront the dairy issue, they won’t interrupt the pattern of commercial pregnancy and its result: veal. The only other option, given that these calves keep being born, is to campaign for a bit more space and allow the calves to keep a few more red blood cells. That isn’t advocacy; it’s abdication.


Mixed messages from down under?

South Australian animal welfare advocate Ralph Hahnheuser has sought permission to live “in a modern commercial piggery” for three weeks and attract the media to film the expected sores and sickness. ABC News in Australia aired Hahnheuser’s claim that the pens are too small (“two metres long by 60 centimetres wide, with a concrete floor and no bedding”). A focus on the small pens has permitted reporters to completely avoid the question of whether considering pigs our future food ought to be deemed wrong in itself. No mention of vegetarianism appeared in the ABC report.6

Hahnheuser, who has run for a Senate seat in Australia, has also used hunger strikes. Hunger-striking is a respected method of non-violent protest; but these strikes have been designed for the specific purpose, in Hahnheuser’s words, of exposing an “illness on live export vessels.”7 Hahnheuser’s letter opposes putting the sheep “in a situation where it won’t eat for three weeks, and without routine veterinary supervision” and adds that the live export trade “puts thousands of animals through such stress that they refuse to eat, and suffer and die on these filthy ships of shame” owned by “an industry that exports thousands of jobs and millions of dollars to countries that benefit from our stupidity, and then subject Australian animals to a cruel and brutal ritual slaughter.” Evidently, then, the hunger strikes are meant to highlight the wrongness of ritual slaughter and giving benefits to non-Australians. Nowhere in the letter does candidate Hahnheuser challenge Australians’ own consumption of sheep.

Hahnheuser currently faces prosecution for (admittedly) adding pig flesh to food for sheep bound for Kuwait.8 The contamination activity has had the predictable effect of alienating the public in two ways. First, it has drawn invidious arguments about religion and culture into an issue that clearly implicates people of various cultures, including the activist’s own. Second, it’s raised public concerns about bioterrorism,9 when vegetarianism, responsibly understood, is an unwavering commitment to non-violence.

In its prosecution, the government needs to show that Hahnheuser intended to cause an economic loss by leading people to avoid a product. Hahnheuser’s lawyer maintains that the activist was only motivated by the welfare of the sheep and did not intend to cause an economic loss to those shipping them.

Judging by the news articles that have followed the course of this protracted case, it’s unlikely that the public has ever received the clear message that respecting other animals requires a change in local dining habits. An Australian consumes, on average, 37 pounds of sheep flesh a year.10

Australia's industry relies mainly on grass-fed lambs — lambs who presumably receive better treatment than most animals traded in agribusiness.11 Are measurements of cruelty, then, really the point? Or is it better for activists to teach the public about the benefits of a diet that doesn’t rely on dominating other animals?

Throughout the year 2004, we noticed substantial and constant interest on the part of animal advocacy groups in promoting the idea that free-range or humane animal agriculture can and should exist. Few groups believe there is a public demand for vegetarianism, and campaigns are giving in to the popular theme of consumer choice. And yet, how can we expect other animals’ interests to get serious attention by those who interact with them mainly by digesting them? Advocacy, the act of supporting or defending another’s interests or rights, is a form of leadership. It does not mean branding the flesh of animals with our mark of approval simply because they were not owned and sold by a high-volume producer.


Veganism as direct action

Vegan telephone company CEO Norm Mason takes a clear view of respectful dining. Mason, self-identified as a vegan to the Associated Press, stocks the company cafeteria with fresh vegetables and plant-based dishes such as veggie burgers and vegetarian sloppy joes; and “other meatless, eggless, butter-free delicacies are cooked daily using heavy bags of texturized vegetable protein.”12

None of the 200 employees of Cat Communications International has to eat in Mason’s cafeteria; all are free to dine elsewhere. “But,” says Mason, “I hope through example, they would say, ‘Hey, this is pretty good stuff.’” So the 200 employees of don’t have to pay for the food. “This was a way to say: ‘Look, we don’t feel it’s right to have the flesh of an animal, an animal killed for your benefit,’” explains Mason, who hopes to “teach them respect for animals” and also stocks the room with information pamphlets about vegetarianism.

Mason began offering vegetarian meals about four years ago, and now has an office in the building that provides a discount spay and neuter service, an adoption network for cats and dogs, and a sanctuary for other domesticated animals.

  • 1. Christy Blomeke’s biography is published on the Internet by Purdue University. The cited conference presentation took place in 2004.
  • 2. Penelope Patsuris, “Biometrics Beyond Terrorism” - Forbes (8 Jul. 2004).
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Ruaridh Nicoll, “Hunt Bill at a Dead End” - The Observer (12 Dec. 2004).
  • 5. In 2004, Bills S.159 and A. 329 were introduced in New Jersey. Farm Sanctuary’s release appeared electronically through the Internet address www.njfarms.org/pr_njveal.htm.
  • 6. “Animal Activist Wants to ‘Live Like a Pig’” - ABC News Online (29 Nov. 2004).
  • 7. See Ralph Hahnheuser, Senate candidate, “Letters to the Editor” - The (Sydney) Daily Telegraph (30 Sep. 2004) (a 169-word response to David Penberthy’s op-ed “Stupid Is As Stupid Does in the Election,” printed in the same paper on the 29th).
  • 8. “Sheep Trade Campaigner Gets Court Case Moved” - ABC News Online (15 Dec. 2004).
  • 9. Some activists who supported Hahnheuser cited Section 5 of Australia’s Terrorism Insurance Act of 2003, which exempts certain conduct from the definition of economic terrorism if it is not intended to create a serious health or safety risk, and claiming that Hahnheuser had in fact created no safety risk. There is a stark irony here, given vegetarians’ own concerns over possibilities of food contamination. The relevant decision-makers apparently did see a safety risk. The 1,800 sheep who “came into contact” with the shredded pig flesh were slaughtered for pet food. “Tests: Activists Fed Pork to Sheep” - CNN (4 Dec. 2003).
  • 10. Iowa State University’s updated estimates for 2004, as recorded in the International Lamb Industry Profile.
  • 11. Keithly G. Jones, Trends in the U.S. Sheep Industry, Economic Research Service, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (2003).
  • 12. Chris Kahn, “Vegan CEO Offers Meat-Free Cafeteria” - Associated Press (31 Oct. 2004).
Lee Hall

Act•ionLine Spring 2005

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