“[After almost being pressured by other boys to sling rocks at birds.] From that day onward I took courage to emancipate myself from the fear of men, and whenever my inner convictions were at stake I let other people’s opinions weigh less with me than they had done previously. I tried also to unlearn my former dread of being laughed at by my school-fellows. This early influence upon me of the commandment not to kill or to torture other creatures is the great experience of my youth. By the side of that all others are insignificant.” ~ Dr. Albert Schweitzer
by Philip Brasor Feb 22, 2014
On Jan. 10, convenience store chain Family Mart started selling a new bentō (boxed lunch) with a heavy-duty name to complement its hefty ¥600 price: Famima Premium Koroge Wagyu-iri Hamburger Bento, which “contains” high-quality Japanese ground beef. For an added touch of extravagance, it also came with a side of foie gras.
A month later, the company withdrew the product after receiving complaints about the foie gras, which is made from the fatty livers of geese. Animal welfare groups claim the manufacture of foie gras amounts to animal cruelty since the birds are force-fed. A Family Mart PR person told Tokyo Shimbun that the company only received 22 complaints, but that it was enough to persuade it to pull the item. The reporter hinted that the company may have actually withdrawn it due to bad sales, but in any case, it’s significant that complaints related to animal rights would be taken seriously by a Japanese business and picked up by the media. It’s not a topic that’s usually covered unless non-Japanese are involved.
Like Caroline Kennedy. The new U.S. ambassador to Japan recently attracted media scrutiny for a tweet expressing her and the U.S. government’s objection to the dolphin “drive hunt” taking place in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture. Ever since “The Cove” won the Oscar for best documentary of 2009, the world has come down on the whaling town for its yearly cull, which involves scaring dolphins into a cove, separating some for sale to aquariums and marine shows, and killing others for food. Taiji says the condemnation is unfair, since this is how the town makes its living. People who object are hypocrites because humans raise cows and pigs for slaughter. What’s the difference?
Protests are viewed by the Japanese press as a form of cultural bias: Those who complain think dolphins are special, more intelligent than other animals and thus should not be killed for food. But recent editorials in the Tokyo and Asahi Shimbuns, prompted by the Kennedy tweet, downplay the cultural-chasm theory. Asahi says it is more about “how we want to live as human beings.” Why are dolphins special? The feeling is that there is “less distance” between our two species because dolphins are biologically equipped to “communicate,” thus giving them the means to display “intelligence.” And the more an animal “fulfills the condition of being human,” the greater its right to be treated the same way, meaning they should have similar rights as people do in a given society.
However, the logical pillars of this argument as erected by the Asahi were designed to be knocked down. The paper interviewed Koichi Tagami, a lecturer on ethics at Rissho University, who says human rights stem from self-consciousness, which implies “independent reasoning.” If other animals manifest self-consciousness in some way, they deserve to have their rights protected, including the right not to have pain inflicted on them. So if we grant those rights to dolphins, Tagami argues, then all animals that feel pain should have that right, including cows and pigs. Even robots, he reasons, have the right to object to being “controlled” by humans.
The editorial quotes other scholars who point out differing attitudes toward animals in other countries, and how certain animals are protected while others aren’t depending on the culture. The point seems to be that it is impossible to formulate legal guidelines that cover all aspects of animal welfare when there is no global consensus on what is basically a philosophical issue.
But the Asahi’s academic approach conveniently avoids touching on the most important aim of the animal welfare movement, which is to prevent suffering. Tagami’s theory about freedom from pain is merely a talking point. Though the average person may find advocacy of animal rights too intense at times, the worldwide trend is toward less suffering. Slaughterhouses in Europe must anesthetize livestock before they are killed. Most in the U.S. slaughter animals only after they are stunned. Last week, Denmark outlawed meat-processing techniques used for halal and kosher food, which dictate that animals be conscious when they are slaughtered. The move was met with condemnation from Muslim and Jewish groups. Even nonreligious people wondered about the law after a Danish zoo killed a perfectly healthy giraffe and fed it to lions because the giraffe could not be bred. Its genetic material was already over-represented in the captive environment.
Tokyo Shimbun’s editorial enters this realm by tying animal welfare to commerce. What’s cruel is the mass-production methods of most meat-processing businesses, which are designed to be cheaper and more efficient. Filmmaker Aya Hanabusa made a movie about a Japanese butcher that showed how he raised his livestock from birth and personally killed the animals before processing their meat for sale. She told Tokyo Shimbun that before you can call dolphin culls cruel, you have to apply the same ethical criteria to animals raised “as industrial products.”
In this regard, Taiji fishermen say they have adopted “slaughterhouse methods” to make sure the dolphins they kill “die instantly,” an assertion that anyone who has seen “The Cove” may have a problem with. In any event, they invited Kennedy to witness the cull and see for herself, since what galled them was her suggestion that it is “inhumane.”
Semantics mean something here, and both sides stretch points to their advantage. Taiji claims outsiders are interfering with their “traditional way of life,” but the town didn’t start the drive hunt until 1969, when it needed live animals for its recently opened whaling museum. The anti-cull activists, on the other hand, insist that dolphin meat is dangerous due to high levels of mercury, a contention that is incidental to the cruelty argument. In a world where meat-eating is common, it’s unlikely either side is going to budge unless the Japanese media joins the discussion in a meaningful way.
by Jack Carone
There is a tendency for some of us who wish to promote veganism—a way of living which excludes the use of animals for food, clothing and other exploitation— to cushion the call to action with a warning/acknowledgement/suggestion that it is a difficult thing to do.
While this is surely the case for some people, for others, including me, it has happened quickly and painlessly when the time was right. To set the stage for interested seekers to expect hardship invites failure or a refusal to even try.
For someone who still really wants to eat animals and their secretions, or still wants to wear a fur coat or a silk shirt, but resists for health or moral reasons understood but not felt, it is certainly hard to do. They have to exert Willpower to resist things they still desire, and this almost inevitably leads to a failure to maintain the “sacrifice”. Someone who gives up meat for “health reasons” very often reverts, occasionally or permanently.
But for someone who has internalized the horror and immorality of subjecting other feeling beings to abuse and slaughter, and who simply refuses to, simply cannot—just won’t— be a part of this any longer, there is no feeling of deprivation, and no enticement which can make them go back to participating in these injustices.
I call this Won’tPower, and in contrast to WillPower, it is effortless to maintain.
Let me tell you what pushed the button in my being and changed my life in an instant.
At the time, I subscribed to the Los Angeles Times newspaper. I sat down one morning and turned to the feature section, and began reading a human-interest story about a man who had become very bitter about life due to some tragic personal experiences. He had become very hard-hearted.
He somehow got a job in a slaughterhouse, killing lambs—baby sheep— as they came by in procession, he took their just-beginning lives with a knife.
One day, a particular lamb passed his station, and he stabbed as before. But before this lamb could fall, mortally wounded, she turned and tenderly licked her own blood from her killer’s hand.
The man broke down, had an instant change of heart, his bitterness melted, he left and became a minister, enriching lives instead of ending them.
I folded the paper, set it down, and have never looked back, except to regret that I had not saved the article!
It is important to note that I had already been thinking about the morality of eating animals, primarily due to my experience of having my first dog as an adult, with all the revelations that living with another species brings, and having met someone’s “pet” turkey, who had expressed as much interest in me as had their Great Dane dog. In other words, the time was right for me, much as the time has to be right to change any ingrained habit, whether it’s smoking, drinking or anything else.
So if you have been wrestling with the ethics of consuming and wearing animals, if you are torn, keep wrestling. Keep thinking and considering. Keep the internal quest alive. When it coincides with the thing—your own personal newspaper article—that pushes your moral button, you may find that it is the easiest and most satisfying thing you have ever done.
If you eat chicken or pork, you’re supporting extreme animal abuse on factory farms;
If you eat beef, you’re supporting the livestock industry that kills bison, elk and wolves;
If you eat fish, you’re supporting the demise of our living oceans;
If you hunt, your selfish food choice robs a life and cheats a natural predator;
If you eat meat, you’re part of the problem instead of the solution;
Four more cases of deadly bird flu were reported in China on Wednesday, bringing the season’s total in that country to 221. Fifty-seven people have died.
The surge in cases has health officials worldwide watching closely as hundreds of millions of Chinese begin to travel for Chinese New Year.
The H7N9 strain of influenza jumped from birds to humans only last year. It is extremely dangerous, causing severe illness in more than three quarters of people infected and death in more than one quarter, according to Chinese researchers.
It is called bird flu because the virus originated in birds and so far is transmitted to humans only by live poultry. Cooked meat is no risk.
All of this year’s cases have been in China.
The surge in cases comes as China gets ready for what is called Spring Festival in Chinese. Known as Chinese New Year in the West, it begins Jan 31. People customarily travel to spend the holiday with family.
China estimates that 3.6 billion trips will be taken during the two-week holiday — and many of those traveling will be taking or buying live chickens and ducks as gifts.
Humans can be infected by being in close contact with “infected live poultry, mostly in live bird markets or when slaughtering birds at home,” the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said in a warning issued Tuesday.
So far, no sustained human-to-human transmission has occurred, according to the World Health Organization.
“Nothing can be predicted with certainty, but on present evidence, none of these viruses shows a potential to spread widely or cause an explosive outbreak,” Margaret Chen, director-general of the World Health Organization, said Tuesday in Geneva.
Flu viruses are notorious for quickly mutating into new forms, but so far genetic analysis by the FAO shows that the H7N9 virus has not changed significantly since its emergence last year.
“We are watching closely the increasing number of confirmed cases that are being reported from China during the past few weeks,” said Joseph Breese, an influenza expert with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “Fortunately, Chinese health officials have not reported changes in the epidemiology of the virus that would lead us to believe it can easily spread between humans.”
The fear is that it could all too easily do so, said Mike Osterholm, director of the Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. “The clock is ticking but we just don’t know what time it is.”
Several things about H7N9 worry health officials. A major concern is that unlike other flu strains, it doesn’t make infected birds sick, so farmers don’t know their flocks are infected.
Humans are the proverbial canary in the coal mine in this outbreak. “The way we know that we have H7N9 in poultry is that humans start to get sick,” Osterholm said.
When testing shows a flock is ill, farmers have been reluctant to cull their birds because the animals seem healthy.
The birds breathe out the virus. That’s different from other flu strains, which are excreted in feces.
“We don’t know yet if there’s an infectious cloud that comes off the bird markets that can infect nearby humans,” Osterholm said. There have been cases in which people who lived close to a live bird market but didn’t go in still got infected, he said.
The concern is that with so many cases appearing in eastern and southern China, and hundreds of millions of people traveling long distances to get home for the holidays, the virus could find a way to mutate into something that can easily pass between humans.
“We’re in a ‘stay tuned’ moment right now,” Osterholm said. “If that happens, then bets are off. It’s potential pandemic time.”
To all those of breeding age who are considering starting a family or adding yet another human child to this already dangerously over-crowded world, I politely urge you, with all due respect, to please think again. If not for the fragile planet’s sake or for the sake of every other struggling life form headed for mass extinction, then for the child’s sake, your sake and for sanity’s sake. Go ahead and adopt, whether human or non-human, but please don’t add to every environmental woe known to—and caused by—man by falling prey to the ill-advised notion that propagating is our duty or prerogative.
The world as we know it is headed for collapse. Do you really want your precious offspring to witness the unraveling of all of Earth’s systems or suffer the reckoning that’s soon to befall those unfortunate enough to be here when humankind’s self-serving environmental crimes come back on them? Can’t you see that the sheer weight of the human race is crushing everything and everyone else?
As a good friend, a young woman wise beyond her years, put it, those who consider reproducing to be a positive prospect for the twenty-first century “must be closing their eyes, plugging up their ears, and singing ‘Lalalala!’ very loudly.”
What goes up must come down, people; and for the past couple of hundred years or so, the human population has been accelerating skyward—breaking all sound barriers in a headlong quest to defy gravity, burst out of the Earth’s atmosphere and sail on to oblivion—taking all of creation with it.
Live chickens at the Baixing Sanniao Wholesale Market in Guangzhou’s Baiyun district, Dec. 20, 2013. (Photo/CNS)
As millions of Chinese prepare to return to their hometowns for Spring Festival, the challenges of containing the latest H7N9 bird flu epidemic have come sharply into focus.
Health authorities are deeply concerned by the resurgent epidemic, with about twenty new cases reported in the first two weeks of 2014, mostly in the eastern costal regions. About 150 cases of H7N9 bird flu have been confirmed in China since the first case in March last year.
Li Lanjuan of the Chinese Academy of Engineering said the virus is more active in winter and spring, and that high density transportation in coaches, trains and aircraft could create favorable circumstances for the epidemic to spread.
Li is China’s leading researcher on bird flu and a member of the H7N9 prevention and control group. She warns that the virus might be spread by migrants returning to their, mainly rural, homes from developed eastern regions.
During the world’s biggest annual human migration in the 40 days around Spring Festival, about 3.62 billion trips will be made this year, according to Tuesday’s National Development and Reform Commission press release.
This year, the highlight of Spring Festival, Chinese Lunar New Year, falls on Jan. 31, which Chinese people traditionally celebrate as a family.
“We are worried about the risk brought by massive numbers of people gathering together in confined spaces,” said Dr Liang Weifeng of the medical college at Zhejiang University.
In Zhejiang, new H7N9 cases have been reported for six consecutive days. As of Tuesday, the eastern province had reported a total of 11, including some fatalities. Zhejiang was also the site of China’s first confirmed human-to-human transmission last November, when a man was infected while caring for his father-in-law.
More alarming still, Guizhou province in the remote southwest of the country confirmed its first H7N9 fatality on Saturday, that of a migrant worker who returned home from Zhejiang on Jan. 4.
Results of research by a Chinese team published in the Lancet, have established that the variation of an amino acid on the H7 gene has made the H7N9 strain more infectious to mammals.
“On the PB2 gene, we have found another variation in a key amino acid. One more variation of a specified amino acid, and human-to-human transmission will become much more likely,” said Liang, indicating his extremely high concern over the possibility.
The team recently identified a new partial variation in the virus, demonstrating its capacity to adapt to its environment.
“It has increased the risk of human-to-human transmission and brought more difficulty in treatment,” Liang added.
“In spite of this, there is no reason to panic. We can confirm that the H7N9 flu virus has not shown scaled variation and human-to-human transmission,” said Gao Hainyu, a member of the team drafting a thesis on the new results.
Another problem facing health authorities is that Spring Festival is also the peak season for poultry sales and consumption.
The Chinese have a long tradition of eating fresh food especially at important feasts and family reunions. Chinese people, especially those in eastern regions, like to buy live chicken and duck and slaughter them at home to serve fresh. Despite a government ban, live poultry markets are reemerging in some regions.
At an open-air market in Zhejiang, Cai, a local senior citizen, and his wife pick several live birds in preparation for cooking the city’s speciality, Hangzhou Roast Duck for the new year. “Dishes of chicken and duck are a must on New Year’s Eve. We can hardly change tradition,” said Cai.
“There is no problem after cooking, and the duck and chicken sold here have been quarantined,” said Zhu Linying, a housewife at Xianlinyuan market in Hangzhou.
Zhejiang and other provinces are cranking up H7N9 control with more inspections and tougher quarantine measures wherever live birds are sold.
Poultry are easily infected by H7N9, and the risk cannot be contained simply by closing live poultry markets, said Li Lanjuan.
“Some deaths were caused by delays in seeking medical advice, as the virus quickly attacks the lungs,” said Li, alerting people to mind their health during the holiday and go to hospital if they have fever or a cough.