[Note from Mike Dorf: The following post by Sherry Colb went up virtually simultaneously with Neil Buchanan's post yesterday morning due to a scheduling mix-up on my part. In case it was missed, I'm moving it up the page for a bit. Please note also that this means that the reference in Paul Scott's post to Sherry's post "below" now refers to this post, which is above. So many bloggers; so little room . . . .]
In recent posts, there has been much discussion about whether it might be morally acceptable to consume animal products if their production involved death but not suffering. The realities of agriculture, of course, have nothing to do with painless or cruelty-free death, whether one is consuming "cage free" or "organic" animal products or factory-farmed versions of such products. (For a useful antidote to "cage-free" and other such claims about humanely raised animals, read this). But some argue that due to (hypothesized) limitations in animals' ability to conceive of themselves in the future, inflicting a painless death could somehow represent a morally neutral act. Here is a thought for believers that farmed animals' (hypothetical) painless death would represent no harm. It is important to say, if only because those who consume animal products may think that the possibility of painless death represents an argument for human omnivorousness, even if that possibility is not realized in fact.
Nonhuman animals -- including those routinely "raised" and slaughtered -- require proximity to other nonhuman animals for their wellbeing (not unlike human animals, incidentally, whose insanity in response to solitary confinement is well known). Therefore, when an animal is slaughtered, then even if death were not itself a harm to the slaughtered animal, either it will cause great distress to other nonhuman animals (the ones who have become attached to the one who is slaughtered) or, if there are no nearby nonhuman animals -- if the one animal is completely isolated -- then the life of isolation in which the "farmer" has kept this animal will have been one of extreme cruelty.
Thus, in order to slaughter an animal for food, one must either deprive the animal of bonding and relationship with other animals (and thereby "harm" the animal by causing him or her to suffer terribly) or must, in taking the animal away to slaughter, cause the animals with whom the one has bonded to suffer terribly in the face of the loss.
Indeed, cows bellow loudly when their cage-mates are trucked away for slaughter. They do the same when their babies are taken away for veal (to allow the milk to be diverted to human rather than calf consumption) -- they mourn and bellow, and other cows try to comfort them. And this is no less true for birds such as chickens. Hens are very attached to their chicks, enjoy snuggling with them, and do not want them taken and killed. Interestingly, our language recognizes this reality (even as so many of us have forgotten it) by referring to "mother hens."
It is thus impossible to raise animals for food and food products and avoid causing them intense suffering, and it is impossible to kill an animal without causing other animals intense suffering. It would seem to follow from this that one ought to aspire to be a vegan (and in fact be a vegan) and thus withdraw support from the inherently cruel institution of animal agriculture. To do otherwise is to communicate a vote -- far more effectively than by voting on election day -- for the cruelty to continue. There is no painless slaughter, and one cannot disclaim responsibility for demanding that suffering simply by assuming that there is.
Posted by Sherry Colb