Human insect use and consumption – a compilation

Acheta domesticus or House cricket

I was shocked to read recently that around 1 TRILLION (1 trillion = 1,000,000,000,000) individual insects are currently raised for consumption and killed on farms every year. It’s a staggering number, all the more so for the fact that it’s almost never publicised. Despite over a decade living vegan, I was previously completely unaware that the exploitation of insects is so extensive. And that exploitation is booming.

The INFOODS program at Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome has published the Food composition database for biodiversity with the aim of making nutritional values of wild and underutilized foods available. In the latest version (2017 version 4.0) of this database, a total of 471 entries of edible insects were included. Looking more closely, I discovered that there are six common commercial edible insect species at present, including cricket (Acheta domesticus), honeybee (Apis mellifera), domesticated silkworm (Bombyx mori), mopane caterpillar (Imbrasia belina), African palm weevil (Rhynchoporus phoenicis) and yellow meal worm (Tenebrio molitor). And yes – in response to a question I asked too – honey bees and silkworms ARE eaten in some places.

What do we know about how insects experience life?

Whereas there are vast reservoirs of information about the use and exploitation of mammals, marsupials, birds, and other land based individuals, as well as fishes and other aquatic individuals, we come across less information about insects. Along with our knowledge of our commonest victim species, there is a wealth of scientific information to confirm their sentience, the way they experience their lives and living, along with copious medical evidence of the needlessness of our species’ use and consumption of their lives and bodies. 

However, concerning insects, many humans experience generally unjustified, but fairly widespread, feelings of revulsion towards some of them, so it’s hardly surprising that it’s rare to see articles questioning the morality of using insect lives and bodies, or examining the way in which they experience their lives. Even some of the sources linked here, included because they are informative, examine insect flesh consumption only in comparison to the flesh of other animal species.

As with most nonvegan works, there’s that screamingly obvious barrier to true appreciation of the facts; while articles weigh the relative merits of one type of immoral animal exploitation against another type of immoral animal exploitation, the question that always goes unasked is, ‘Do we need to use and/or eat animals at all?’ to which the answer is invariably, ‘NO.’  When the use of the life and body of any individual is unnecessary – and it always is – then we have a moral obligation not to inflict avoidable harm on them. As far as my own conscience is concerned, the precautionary principle must ALWAYS apply. 

Despite scant information in the popular media, common sense should suggest to any of us who are paying attention that it’s extremely likely that there are many similarities between the insect’s experience of life and the experience of members of almost every other species that science has examined.  For this reason, in the same way that I’ve compiled collections of credible information about cephalopod exploitation, zoos, and bee exploitation, I decided that the same type of compilation on the subject of insect exploitation is long overdue. I’ll add to it as time goes by.

The use of insects for food

‘Given the criteria for considering whether a being is sentient, in particular the presence of a centralized nervous system, it is reasonable to conclude that a great number of invertebrate animals, including insects, are sentient. This makes practices that cause them harm, like exploiting them for use as food, incompatible with an attitude of respect for others. The situation is made worse by the fact that their small size means the number of animals used in such practices is enormous.’

‘The consumption of these animals has been defended from environmentalist points of view. This is an example of the disagreement between environmentalist positions and those centered on the defense of animals. Farming and eating invertebrate animals harms them, and this will continue while their interests are not taken into consideration. In fact, as already mentioned above, due to their sheer numbers, they may be the animals most greatly affected by human exploitation.

Invertebrate sentience: a review of the behavioral evidence

30 May 2021

‘Invertebrates are animals that do not possess or develop a spinal column, including insects, mollusks, and corals. Although the exact number of invertebrate species that exist on Earth is not known, estimates repeatedly find them to comprise 95% of all animal species1 and greater than 99.9% of all individual animals. Because of the enormous number of invertebrates, if invertebrates matter morally, they are also of enormous moral importance.

The biggest problem with eating insects isn’t the “ew” factor

19 June 2021

‘For me, the most sobering finding of Rethink Priorities’s research is that around 1 trillion insects are already raised and killed on farms every year — a staggering number, since we’re still at the start of the insect-food boom. Because insects live very short lives, that annual total encompasses many generations; only between 79 billion and 94 billion farmed insects are alive at any given time.

I don’t know for sure whether those insects feel pain — but if there’s even a small chance they do, the scale of the suffering that would imply is massive. I’m not categorically against insect farming, but I do hope we can learn more about what insects’ lives are like before we start farming them at an even greater scale.’

On the torment of insect minds and our moral duty not to farm them

27 July 2021

‘Proponents of insect farming are right to call traditional animal agriculture a crisis for public health and the environment. In addition to harming and killing more than 100 billion (non-insect) farmed animals per year, factory farms are leading consumers of antibiotics, which makes them ideal breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant pathogens. They are also leading consumers of land, water and energy, and leading producers of waste, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, according to one standard estimate, traditional animal agriculture is responsible for 9 per cent of global carbon emissions, 37 per cent of global methane emissions, and 65 per cent of global nitrous oxide emissions, which adds up to 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Clearly, any industry that can displace traditional animal agriculture is, to that degree, good.’

‘[I]nsect farming is not the public health or environmental saviour that it claims to be. The reality is that insect farming and traditional animal farming are mutually reinforcing systems. Industry insiders know that selling insects for human consumption is not profitable at scale. Thus, the new insect farms are selling their product primarily to huge aquaculture operations in which ground insect powder is added to fishmeal. The industry is also lobbying hard to allow chicken and pig factory farmers to use insects as feed. By reducing the cost of animal feed, insect farming might enable an expansion of factory farming systems.

The environmental benefits of insect farming are thus misleading. Farmed insects are not replacing other farmed animals; they are being fed to them. The emergence of insect farming thus reinforces another already inefficient supply chain. Plant-based supply chains – including for plant-based meats – are generally much more sustainable than the animal-based supply chains to which insect farms are contributing. And humans can produce plant-based proteins without bringing into existence trillions of possibly sentient beings each year, all so that we can then confine them, kill them and eat them either directly or, more likely, indirectly, via other farmed animals.

The Surprisingly Sophisticated Mind Of An Insect

5 May 2022

‘However, a growing collection of new experiments is challenging the old consensus. Far from being six-legged automatons, they can experience feelings akin to pain and suffering, joy and desire. When Chittka gave bumblebees an extra jolt of sucrose, their favorite food, the bees buzzed with delight. Agitated, anxious honeybees, on the other hand, responded with pessimism when researchers shook them to simulate a predatory attack. Other researchers found that they “scream” when under threat. Ants display rudimentary counting abilities, can understand the concept of zero and make tools. Fruit flies learn from their peers. Cockroaches have complex social lives. Fruit flies drown themselves in booze when deprived of mating opportunities. Some earwigs and other insects play dead when threatened by a predator.

In other words, insects have thoughts and feelings. The next question for philosophers and scientists alike is: Do they have consciousness?’ (NB – an informative article despite the reference to Singer (a nonvegan and a utilitarian) in the later part of the piece.)

Food for thought.

 

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Thoughts on avoidable harm and being veganish

Image by Andrew Skowron of 4-week-old hens destined for an existence as egg machines.

I can’t count how often I’ve seen declarations from people who claim to be vegan despite indulging in some form of avoidable use of members of other animal species. However before I go any further I must stress the word ‘AVOIDABLE’.

Living in a nonvegan world, completely surrounded by a regime of oppression that runs almost entirely on the exploitation of other individuals, I sincerely can’t imagine how anyone can claim that they have absolutely no involvement in exploitation either directly or indirectly. For the avoidance of doubt, this is not some controversial claim that veganism is impossible – far from it. I’m only mentioning this because I’ve seen so many vegans attacking or sniping at others as if they, themselves, were completely free of the taint of corruption that nonveganism brings. Examples of this sniping are when people are condemned for shopping in supermarkets, or taking life-supporting medication, or any one of a number of other activities that personal circumstances mean they are unable to avoid.

Even if every actual vegan had been born and raised vegan – which only a miniscule percentage were – let’s take as an example, buying goods in a vegan shop. I refuse to believe that every single human involved in the growing, harvesting, production, importing, package design, manufacture etc of the stock goods was vegan. The premises to sell these items – designed, built, owned, maintained by, leased from vegans? The transport of goods, including vehicle design, manufacture, maintenance, oil extraction/fuel refinement, petrol station employment etc? The creation of adverts? The ownership of the media where the adverts appear? No way – not even close. Examine all the associations in ANY situation and we will ALWAYS find nonvegan connections, and hence links to exploitation. We are ALL tainted to some degree.

BUT.

The word ‘avoidable‘ is the critical one.  Defined more precisely, it’s even covered in the actual definition of veganism.

‘Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment.’

When we are not vegan, we use members of other species for our own interests at the expense of their right to own their bodies and live their lives. Vegan is who we are, not a lengthy checklist of do’s and don’ts. However if we knowingly carry out non vegan actions and activities which we are able to avoid, even just occasionally, then we have simply NOT grasped what veganism actually is.

Accusations of purity or ‘gatekeeping’?

Now at this point, while some will no doubt be still maintaining that they are utterly free of any taint of corruption, many will be readying the ‘purist’ card to try to shut down what is increasingly viewed as heresy – the promotion of the animal rights ethic that drives veganism. Believe me, I’ve seen and heard that one times without number and it’s always from people who are seeking to excuse some level of  violence and needless harm, either in their own actions or those of someone else. It puzzles me that accusations of ‘purity’ are even a thing – I’ve already stated openly that we are all tainted to some degree. If veganism was a difficult, complicated concept that took years to learn about and master, I could maybe see the point. But it’s nothing like that at all.

If we do our absolute best not to harm members of other species, we call ourselves vegan. If we do avoidably harm members of other species or promote harm to them, we are not vegan no matter what we call ourselves. That’s it. End of. How hard is that to grasp? It’s black and white, with no middle ground to get lost in, no complexities to study and learn, no grey area.

Yet for some unfathomable reason, many people seem desperate to call themselves ‘vegan’ despite the fact that they clearly aren’t. Why is that? Why is it that some like to adopt the word but fail to grasp the breathtakingly simple principle behind it? How could it be any clearer? But the question is – are they doing anyone any harm?

‘Vegan’ but not vegan – what’s the problem?

If we are not vegan but we represent ourselves as vegan to others who don’t know any better, this is where problems start. Some of the most harmful reinventions of ‘veganism’ involve celebrities hungry for publicity. While some turn ‘veganism’ on and off like a switch with as much sensationalist coverage as they can drum up, others are mouthy in the press about ‘cruelty to animals’, covering topics like fur and dog exploitation, but suspiciously silent when asked outright if they’re vegan. Because they’re not, which by definition means that they are perpetrators of the most sickening atrocities imaginable. 

I’ve seen too much sensationalist press and social media where any calling out of misinformation or false ‘vegan’ claims by much-adulated ‘celebrities’ invites hostility like ‘How dare you criticise’, ‘They’re famous and doing more good than you’, ‘They’re raising awareness’, ‘We can’t all be perfect’, and that absolute gobsmacker of anthropocentric complacency, ‘Everybody’s journey to compassion is different’. As I said earlier, it’s nearly always from people seeking to justify their own lack of consistency by comparing themselves with said celebrities.

The first problem

So there’s the first problem; Someone who harms other animals or promotes harm to other animals, is saying ‘I’m vegan and this is what veganism is all about.’ And people look at them, listen to them, observe their actions and think, ‘Oh right. I wondered what veganism was about. Well I’m not doing much that’s different from them, and they say they’re vegan or anti-cruelty. So probably I’m sort of veganish too.’

And then, reassured that what they’re doing is ethical, they carry on doing whatever they do, carving a bloodbath through the innocent and defenceless with their choices as consumers with a quiet conscience. They most likely won’t feel the need to find out the real facts about animal use. Why should they? They think they’re ‘nearly’ vegan already. I’ve run across so many people like that and it breaks my heart every time. So many wasted opportunities!

Pretending to be vegan (or thinking you are when you’re not) is a betrayal of the most heart wrenching and tragic kind. Let’s be clear, it’s not betraying me and it’s not betraying other vegans as if there’s some exclusive club as per the ‘purist’ accusations. What it is, is an utter betrayal of the only ones who really matter in all of this blood-soaked debacle. Our victims; the uncounted millions whose lives are being wiped out every second, the persecuted, the unwanted and lost, the broken and alone; each individual misery, each individual terror and each individual agony, all caused by our violent, vicious and predatory species.

The second problem

And the second problem? I have to believe there are genuine people out there, sincere people who don’t realise the harm that they’re doing each time they spend cash to keep the machines of death turning for the defenceless ones of this world. They’re people like I used to be, maybe people like you were before you found out about veganism. They’re the people that I reach out to every day, hoping that they can see in my words that I’ve nothing personal to gain, no money to make, no glory to seek. Like so many advocates, all we have is a deep commitment to truth and honesty, sharing facts on behalf of the innocent and persecuted creatures whose planet we share.

Our audience deserves the truth no less than our victims. Yet when someone who harms other animals or promotes harm to other animals, says ‘I’m vegan and this is what veganism is all about,’ their listeners are being DENIED the information that they need to live true to the values that they hold.

In fact, it’s a lifelong regret that I was one of these people; falling for the sensationalist issues and horrific imagery of an ‘animal welfare’ organisation that claimed to represent the interests of other animals while not even promoting veganism as the essential starting point for our concern. In the end it became clear to me that they were a profiteering business using the misery of our species’ victims to pull at the heartstrings and the wallets of a nonvegan audience that included me.

I’ve long believed that the dearest wish of anyone working in an animal rights capacity, should be to find themselves out of a job. It’s hard to be sincere about that as a ‘career activist’ with a family and a mortgage. By typing into a search engine any welfare organisation, followed by the word ‘salaries’ you’ll quickly realise that there’s plenty money to be made off the backs of the suffering billions of innocents who are being thrown under the bus for ‘welfare business’ profit every year.

Being true to those who need us so desperately

It’s sadly true that even when we do our absolute best, we are still tainted by the regime of oppression that pervades our society and our planet. However as long as we avoid every aspect of nonhuman exploitation that we possibly can, then we are fulfilling the letter and the spirit of veganism. If we continue to indulge ourselves in avoidable harm, then it doesn’t matter what we call ourselves, not only are we NOT vegan, but the harm we are causing is immeasurable.

Veganism is the absolute least we can do for our uncounted innocent victims; anything less is a betrayal.

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Professor Tom Regan: A Case for Animal Rights Speech

 

Here, with what is still seen as one of the greatest animal rights speeches of all time, is  Professor Tom Regan  (1938 – 2017) who opened the debate “Does the Animal Kingdom Need a Bill of Rights” at the Royal Institute of Great Britain in 1989.

I have lost count of how many times I’ve listened to this over the years. The talk is as spellbinding as it is quotable, but I couldn’t find an accurate transcript. I therefore decided to transcribe it myself, so the punctuation and emphases are mine.

It is truly astonishing and also rather tragic to find how timeless it is. Sadly, as we go through his ‘question and answer’ responses to the opponents of Animal Rights, we find the same tired old justifications are STILL being used. The difference is that the sheer number of our species’ victims is escalating year on year, so as advocates we can’t afford to relax even slightly. Let us draw inspiration from those like Professor Regan whose life’s work work paved our way. 

**************

‘The other animals humans eat, use in science, hunt, trap, and exploit in a variety of other ways have a life of their own that is of importance to them, apart from their utility to us. They are not only in the world they are aware of it and also of what happens to them, and what happens to them matters to them. Each has a life that fares experientially better or worse for the one whose life it is. Like us they bring a unified psychological presence to the world; like us they are somebodys not somethings.

In these fundamental ways, the non-human animals in labs and on farms for example, are the same as human beings, and so it is that the ethics of our dealings with them – and with one another – must rest on some of the same fundamental moral principles.

At its deepest level an enlightened human ethic is based on the independent value of the individual. To treat human beings in ways that do not honour their independent worth, to reduce them to the status of tools or models or commodities for example, is to violate that most basic of human rights; the right to be treated with respect.

The philosophy of animal rights demands only the logic be respected, for any argument that plausibly explains the independent value of human beings, implies that other animals have the same value and have it equally; and any argument that plausibly explains the right of humans to be treated with respect, also implies that these other animals have this same right, and have it equally.

Also, as a result of selective media coverage in the past – to which this evening’s debate is a notable and praiseworthy exception – the general public has tended to view advocates of animal rights in exclusively negative terms. We are ‘anti-intellectual’, ‘anti-science’, ‘anti-rational’, ‘anti-human’. We stand ‘against’ justice and ‘for’ violence.

The truth, as it happens, is quite the reverse. The philosophy of animal rights is on the side of reason, for it is not rational to discriminate arbitrarily. And discrimination against nonhuman animals is demonstrably arbitrary. It is wrong to treat weaker human beings – especially those who are lacking in normal human intelligence – as tools or models for example. It cannot be rational therefore to treat other animals as if they were tools, models, and the like, if their psychology is as rich as, or richer than, these human beings.

The philosophy of animal rights is pro- not anti-science. This philosophy is respectful of our best science in general, and all evolutionary biology in particular. The latter teaches that, in Darwin’s words, ‘Humans differ from many other animals in degree and not in kind.’

Questions about line drawing to one side, it is obvious that the animals used in laboratories, raised for food, and hunted for pleasure, or trapped for profit, for example, are our psychological kin. This is not fantasy. This is fact, supported by our best science.
The philosophy of animal rights stands for not against justice.

We are not to violate the rights of the few so that the many might benefit; slavery allows this, child labour allows this, all unjust social institutions allow this. But not the philosophy of animal rights whose highest principle is that of justice. The philosophy of animal rights stands for peace and against violence. The fundamental demand of this philosophy is to treat humans and other animals with respect. This philosophy therefore, is a philosophy of peace. But it is a philosophy that extends the demand for peace beyond the boundaries of our species. For there is an undeclared war being waged every day against countless millions of nonhuman animals. To stand truly for peace, is to stand firmly against their ruthless exploitation.

And what, aside from the common menu of media distortions, what will be said by the opponents of animal rights?

Will the objection be that we are equating animals and humans in every respect, when in fact humans and animals differ greatly?

But clearly, we are not saying that humans and other animals are the same in every way; that dogs and cats can do calculus; or that pigs and cows enjoy poetry.
What we are saying is that, like humans, many other animals have an experiential welfare of their own. In this sense we and they are the same. In this sense therefore, despite our many differences, we and they are equal.

Will the objection be that we are saying that every human and every animal has the same rights? That chicken should have the right to vote and pigs the right to ballet lessons?

But of course, we are not saying this. All we are saying, is that these animals and humans share one basic moral right; the right to be treated with respect.

Will the objection be that because animals do not respect our rights, we therefore have no obligation to respect their rights either?

But there are many human beings who have rights and are unable to respect the rights of others; young children and the mentally enfeebled and deranged of all ages. In their case we do not say that it is perfectly all right to treat them as tools or models or commodities because they do not honour our rights. On the contrary we recognise that we have a duty to treat them with respect. What is true of cases involving these human beings is no less true of cases involving other animals.

Will the objection be that if other animals do have more – even if other animals do have moral rights – there are other more important things that need our attention; world hunger and child abuse for example, apartheid, drugs, violence to women, the plight of the homeless. After – after – we take care of these problems then we can worry about animal rights.

This objection misses the mark. For the rank-and-file of the animal rights movement is composed of people, whose first line of service is human service; doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, people involved in a broad range of social services from rape counselling to aiding victims of child abuse, or famine, or discrimination; teachers at every level of education, ministers, priests, rabbis. As the lives of these people demonstrate, the choice thoughtful people face is not between either helping humans or helping other animals.

One can do both. We should do both.

Will the objection be, finally, that no one has rights; not any human being and not any other animal either; but rather that right and wrong are a matter of acting to produce the best consequences, being certain to count everyone’s interest and count equal interests equally?

This moral philosophy, ‘utilitarianism’, has a long and venerable history. Influential men and women past and present are among its adherents, and yet it is a bankrupt moral philosophy if ever there was one.
Are we seriously, seriously, to inquire into the interest of the rapist before declaring rape wrong? Should we ask the child molester whether his interest would be frustrated before condemning the molestation of our children?
Remarkably a consistent utilitarianism demands that we ask these questions, and in so demanding, relinquishes any claim on our rational assent.

With regard to the philosophy of animal rights, then, is it rational, impartial, scientifically informed? Does it stand for peace and against injustice?

To these – to ALL these questions – the answer is an unqualified ‘yes’.
And as for the objections that are raised against this philosophy, are those who accept it, able to offer rational, informed, answers?
Again, the answer is, ‘yes’.

In the battle of ideas, the philosophy of animal rights wins, its critics lose.
It remains to be seen which side emerges as the victor in the ongoing political battle between what is just and what is not.

Thank you.’

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Let’s talk about mutilation

A piglet with notched ears which is a standard and permanent way that individuals at catalogued in the animal exploitation industry.

A recent post on Facebook was illustrated by the image below which is the work of the highly acclaimed animal rights artist and advocate, Jo Frederiks. The text read;

Image by Jo Frederiks, Animal Rights Artist
https://www.facebook.com/Jo.Frederiks/

‘The distinctions we make between the species that we love as family and those we persecute as resources are completely artificial. ‘Farm animal’, ‘food animal’ and ‘pet’ are all made-up terms, invented by humans, just like the laws that we invent to let us do what we want to them. Our victims get no say in the matter, yet they all  share with us the quality of sentience, experiencing the world with minds and memories, through their environment, their senses and their interactions with others.

It is vital to understand that individuals whose lives and bodies are ‘farmed’ are not regarded as feeling beings; if they were, they would NOT be ‘farmed’ in the first place. To use any individual as a commercial resource automatically denies any and all rights that each has as an autonomous, feeling individual. They are kept alive as economically as possible and used to make as much money as possible until the ideal time for the sale of their corpses. Profit is everything.

We would never dream, even for a moment, of doing to humans or the cats and dogs who share our homes, the things that we readily accept being done to the victims of our demands as humans who refuse to be vegan. What we accept and condone without conscience when we are not vegan, is the essence of the ugly prejudice known as speciesism.

All it takes is for us to say ‘Enough. Not in my name’. Why not stop refusing to be vegan today?

Jo Frederiks’ image of a cat reflects standard procedures in the animal agriculture industry and was intended to illustrate how shocking it seems to us for some species to have this inflicted on them, while when the exact same things are done to the victims of nonvegan consumer demand, the majority turn a blind eye. Judging by the reactions, it seems that many have either no idea that it happens, or else fall for the official line that it ‘doesn’t hurt’ and it’s ‘for their own good’. It’s rarely pointed out that the atrocity that is all animal agriculture has evolved conditions where the unnaturally close confinement of vast numbers of victims causes them severe distress and can result in their hurting each other. But it is not their distress that the industry is concerned about, rather that by hurting each other, damaged bodies hurt profits. The industry sees the solution as ‘cutting off body parts’ where an animal rights advocate will point out that the solution is to stop farming victims as it’s completely unnecessary.

Image by Andrew Skowron is of a bowl of piglet tails. https://andrewskowron.org/

The post drew a vast amount of attention with about 12K reactions and 1.2K shares in a matter of days. The most remarkable thing, however, was the number of trolls it attracted. It’s a long time since I’ve witnessed so much hate and derision, or indeed such a display of ignorance about both the logistics of animal agriculture, and human nutritional requirements.  In addition, if I had not previously known about the diversionary tactic known as ‘whataboutism‘, this would have taught me all I needed to know. Even more disturbing was the number of people who declared themselves prepared to eat any individual with a pulse and thought the whole idea of objecting to needless brutality towards innocent creatures was hilarious. It was as if COP26, with the dire warnings about the end of fossil fuels and a vital shift to plant cultivation and consumption had never happened!  Nevertheless, provoking strong reactions is definitely better than the apathy that greets many animal rights posts and articles. Clearly it touched several nerves and since the post was simple truth, that can only be seen as a positive thing.  

 Mutilation as standard practice

It occurred to me that perhaps for many, particularly those who had never considered the subject before, the references to standard practice shown in Jo Frederiks’ image might not be clear, so I decided to do this blog just to clarify. In her image of a cat, we see ear tagging and notching, branding and tail docking, and shocking as most people may find this, it’s mild compared to what is inflicted on many of our species’ victims.

On these hapless innocents, a vast number of mutilations take place and if those who inflict the procedures are to be believed, they all are for the ‘benefit’ of the victims(!) Not all mutilations are inflicted in every case or in every country; some occur in large-scale establishments, some in so-called ‘backyard’ or ‘hobby’ environments, but in the vast majority of cases, the mutilations listed are not conducted by vets, are inflicted without anaesthetic and include:

  • Pigs: tooth clipping, castration, tail docking, ear clipping, ear notching, ear
    tagging, micro chipping, tattooing, nose ringing;
  • Calves/ cows/ bulls: de-horning or dis-budding, castration, ear clipping, ear notching, ear tagging, micro chipping, tattooing, teat removal, udder flaming, nose ringing, tongue reshaping (yes, without anaesthetic), tail docking;
  • Sheep: tail docking, ear clipping, ear notching, ear tagging, micro chipping, tattooing, castration, mulesing;
  • Chickens: Debeaking aka ‘beak trimming’, de-spurring, dubbing, toe clipping, pinioning;
  • Ducks: pinioning, beak trimming;
  • Geese, guinea fowl, quails, pheasants, partridges: beak trimming;
  • Goats: castration, de-horning or dis-budding, ear clipping, ear notching, ear tagging, micro chipping, tattooing;
  • Turkeys: Debeaking aka ‘beak trimming, de-snooding, de-toeing;
  • Rabbits: tattooing;
  • Deer: ear clipping, ear notching, ear tagging, micro chipping, tattooing; antler removal.

It should be noted that this list is not exhaustive, either in terms of species or procedures.

In particular, it does not include the catalogue of horrors that is permitted under the regulations that govern animal testing and vivisection. The link here is an excellent one by Go Vegan World who in the face of a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, successfully defended the assertion that it is unquestionably appropriate to use the word ‘torture’ to describe all animal testing.

Not does it include artificial insemination procedures that are routinely conducted on most species. This procedure is generally NOT carried out by a vet, and in fact in the case of cows, insemination trainees frequently ‘practice’ on live individuals who are about to be killed in a slaughterhouse, such is the risk of agonising internal damage by unskilled humans. Again, for any who is unaware, the customary method of inseminating a cow is to tether the victim. An arm is thrust into her rectum to hold her uterus steady so that the other hand inserting the insemination rod in her vagina may be targeted accurately with a shot of semen that has been masturbated from a bull. 

Are we really so easy to fool?

I am 100% certain that no one who shares their home and their life with a dog, cat or other nonhuman family member would believe the ‘doesn’t hurt/for their own good’ line for even a second. Like all who advocate on our victims’ behalf, I always hope that the honesty and sincerity of my words will allow the truth of the message to shine. But no one has to take my word for it. We have Google at our fingertips. Provided we are discriminating in our investigations and always question whether the author of any article has a vested financial interest in deception – which is sadly very common particularly in matters relating to the use and consumption of our fellow earthlings (as in, ‘doesn’t hurt/for their own good’) – it’s a treasure trove of information that no other generation has ever had at their fingertips.

So, when you look up the terms used here and read about the reality of animal agriculture, please be outraged. Be very outraged. Be outraged enough to stop paying for it, and stop refusing to be vegan.

 

 

Miscellaneous links: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/40105680_Mutilations_in_poultry_European_poultry_production_systems
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5943685/
https://www.legislation.gov.uk/wsi/2007/1029/schedule/1/made

Posted in Advocacy, Imagery, Mutilation, Nonhuman family members, Terminology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

On ‘personal choice’ and trying to be a ‘popular’ vegan

Image by Tras los Muros https://traslosmuros.com/en/

 

I’m sure we’ve all heard – or maybe even used at some time – the tired old assertion about ‘my personal choice’? My first hearing was when it was actually snarled at me through gritted teeth by a former work colleague on learning I had become vegan about a decade ago. It got old quickly after that, but it’s still doing the rounds and I’m sure some who use it, still imagine it’s original.

Yet every single one of us is very well aware that nothing is a ‘personal choice’ when a victim is involved – I’d be surprised if anyone says otherwise. However all our lives we’ve been surrounded by lies, deceptions, and media fabrications that leave us mostly oblivious to the reality that our eating, clothing, toiletry, entertainment and other ‘choices’ are annually creating trillions of innocent victims out of thinking, feeling individuals whose lives matter to them.

We’re oblivious to the reality, that is, until someone points it out to us.

And NOT ONE of us is pleased to be given the information because our sense of entitlement runs deep. The vegan message is always an unpopular one because our own personal victims are so invisible to us that it’s as if they have never existed; as if their terror, their misery and their agony are just figments dreamed up by those whom the animal-use-industry-controlled media portray as ‘extremists’ who somehow refuse to stop talking about it. When we  mention animal rights, many of our audience get aggressive and regurgitate all the childhood myths that kept them – and us – from asking questions in the past, but a few listeners become distraught as the penny drops and awareness dawns about their complicity in the breath-taking atrocity that is nonveganism.

However in these days of crisis and collapse when zoonotic disease is rampaging through humanity, ecosystems are crumbling, species extinction is gathering pace, and daily reports call for a profound change in the dietary and other exploitative habits of our species, ‘my personal choice’ has acquired a new edge that every human should now be considering with a great deal of care. Because no longer are the ‘personal choice’ people dismissing ‘only’ the annual 80+ billion land dwellers, 2.7 trillion water dwellers, 7+ billions of newly hatched chicks, millions of bees, silk worms, and all the others whose lives are trashed by our smug belief in our own ‘superiority’, whose right to live unmolested has been the subject of animal rights advocacy for decades.

Consumer demand for breast milk, for eggs and for dead flesh is driving ‘animal agriculture’, now recognised almost universally as one of the most significant causes of the climate disaster that is swiftly overwhelming us.

So now ‘personal choice’ has got extremely personal for everyone – vegan and nonvegan alike. Now this assertion of ‘personal choice’ is a declaration that future generations of our own species and every other one besides, have no right to expect a habitable planet on which to look forward to a future. It’s an assertion that not only are their own innocent victims irrelevant to their all-consuming ‘choice’ but so is every single living entity on planet Earth. That’s one hell of a ‘choice’. It’s hubris on a scale never seen before.

So, let’s end on a point to ponder. We are already too late to avoid increasing levels of climate collapse that will manifest in fires, floods, storms, food shortages and other disasters; calamities that will affect each of us personally in ways we have never imagined. A slim chance remains that the worst conceivable outcome for current life on Earth may be averted but it will take all the collective efforts of every single one of us.

I know many vegans keep their heads down, hoping not to be noticed, trying not to seem like one of ‘those vegans‘ so that their nonvegan acquaintances will approve of them. This is not the time to try to cling to a false sense of popularity. Because it IS false. By being silent, vegans are not remaining popular, they’re keeping nonvegans comfortable; enabling them to refuse to confront the devastation that they cause.

We don’t all have to know all the science, all the philosophy, all the statistics behind why we need to stop using our fellow creatures. But we can at least share links to the most credible information we can find; we can all plant seeds. We can point our audience in the direction of the truth and then what they do with that truth is up to the kind of people they are. It’s the least we can do. 

We’re running out of time. Now, the response to the question ‘What have we got to lose?’, is ‘EVERYTHING’.

Posted in Awakening to veganism, consumer demand, Global disasters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Fireworks; harmless fun or wanton destruction?

As someone who used to love the spectacle and the theatre of firework displays, the whizzing, whooping, whistling, screams, pops, and thunderous bangs, the sparkling, light-blazing skies and the gunpowder smoke hanging heavy in the crisp frosty air, the past few years have been a journey of discovery leading to a 180 degree turnaround in my perspective. As with so many things in my life, getting used to saying, ‘I was wrong, I’ve changed my mind’ has been very humbling and necessary – I can thoroughly recommend it and it gets easier with practice. Now I hold the view that this archaic practice should be completely banned with immediate effect.

I suppose my mind started to change on Hogmanay (Scottish New Year’s Eve) a few years back, on a night when my thoughts moved beyond my erstwhile childish delight in things that sparkle and go bang. Afterwards I wrote,

‘At midnight last night it began; a volley of deafening noise and lights that seared the sky, echoing in the silence of a frosty night. The polluting stench of gunpowder hung in the air. I wonder how wild creatures survive in the bitter cold of Scottish nights. Do they hide? Do they huddle together in whatever shelter they can find? The world that we are ruining belongs to them, every bit as much as it belongs to any other species, our own included. With their survival balanced so precariously, this terrifying disruption to whatever peace or rest they had managed to find may have cost some of them their lives.

I realised then, that beyond the exhortations to ‘check bonfires for hedgehogs before lighting’ that seemed to be the limit of ‘concern’ advocated by animal ‘welfare’ organisations when I was younger, I had given little thought to the true impact of firework use.

*Please note that in this piece are several links but I must stress a disclaimer. Although superbly addressing particular aspects of the consequences of firework use, some promote regulatory changes as potential solutions. While acknowledging these works, I wish it to be noted that I am opposed to any position that falls short of a complete ban.*

Social acceptance and belonging

I grew up to see firework displays as a ‘treat’. So much of our lives involve little critical thought; we become adult with a full set of accepted behaviours but no memory of their source or justification. They have been drip-fed into us from infancy by parents, teachers, peers and media, along with life lessons we need for keeping ourselves safe, fed, and sheltered. From childhood, we gradually learn about social conventions; adopt attitudes that enable us to ‘belong’ as members of a social species. 

And thus, we become adults who indulge in the most depraved and sickening practices towards our fellow creatures while calling ourselves ‘animal lovers’; condoning practices that wreck our home planet while calling ourselves ‘ethical’ and ‘conscientious’; eating brutal slaughterhouse-tainted diets that cause disease in ourselves and our world while ignoring science and calling it ‘natural’ and ‘normal’. And when challenged, we can’t defend ourselves with calm and reasoned logic because none was used in our early indoctrination. I firmly believe that’s why we see so much juvenile and illogical blustering on social media, as adults seek in vain to defend violent, toxic and abusive behaviours that fall into the category of ‘knowledge’ inherited from childhood.

So, what’s the problem with fireworks?

Well, basically everything.

  1. Apart from willing spectators, fireworks terrify countless living individuals of every species as well as being;
  2. An extreme form of noise pollution;
  3. An extreme form of light pollution;
  4. Environmental vandalism causing widespread pollution by toxic litter and emissions.
  5. And beyond all these, which occur in every case, fireworks serve as readily available weapons for those with malicious intent to cause deliberate harm, providing a hazardous tool for mayhem and destruction. I won’t discuss here the sickening injuries caused to cats, dogs and others by having fireworks tied to them before being lit, but it would be naïve to ignore that it happens frequently. Age restrictions and all the half-measures implemented randomly in different countries and areas are not an impediment to those with vicious intent. There will be no effective resolution until a complete ban takes place.

1 – A reign of terror

In considering the terror that fireworks cause, here we find a wealth of the most obvious evidence of injury and death to humans, to wildlife and to those species that have been domesticated for our use.   

Fireworks legislation and impacts: international evidence review is a particularly well-referenced report by the Scottish Government as opposed to the UK one. It examines in great detail a tragic catalogue of trauma, distress and injuries to humans and nonhuman species. If you don’t want to read my blog, then I can recommend this for a comprehensive analysis of the issues. In fact it’s essential reading for everyone.

Meanwhile anyone who considers themselves to be an ‘animal lover’ will have witnessed social media outrage in the aftermath of firework ‘celebrations’. Traumatised, lost and dead animals – with a focus fairly firmly on dogs – feature with distressing frequency.  It’s so widely acknowledged that I won’t dwell on it here but it’s time we started looking at the bigger picture. Dogs, humans, cats, and horses are not the only species impacted by fireworks.

2 – Noise pollution

The promotion of ‘silent fireworks’ pops up every time I mention the subject so I don’t want to risk misunderstandings here. There is no such thing as ‘silent’ fireworks. Some companies sell what they promote as ‘low noise‘ fireworks, as a marketing strategy, seeking to preserve business by convincing consumers there’s a right way to do something fundamentally harmful and wrong. 

The hearing of many species is way beyond our own. Many animals have an acute sense of hearing, with various types of mammals and birds shown to have broader hearing ranges and to hear noises of frequencies multiple times higher. As a result, sensitivity to the sounds caused by fireworks is common in many types of domestic and wild animal.

The arbitrary reductions of fireworks marketed as ‘low noise’ do not resolve the issue of noise-induced stress and/or hearing damage for all the victims of humanity’s ‘entertainment’.  Please see this link sections 4.3 and 4.4 for a detailed breakdown of hearing related issues too numerous to list.

3 – Light pollution

Now this is one that rarely gets a mention. In fact, since it’s absurdly common to see the promotion of ‘silent fireworks’ (see above), the light pollution aspect gets a free pass every time. As a country dweller who lives far from street lights, I wouldn’t be surprised if few people who live in cities or communities have any concept of the natural night-time world, so I’ll share what I know. 

Walking out my door on a starry night to see the sweep of the Milky Way overhead, or the cool steady gleam of moonlight bleaching everything to a dull silver, there is a silent tranquillity unknown in a town. When it’s cloudy or there is no moon, the darkness is almost palpable and only close knowledge of the ground lets me move around. On windy nights, my ears are less sensitive to the sounds of life around me. When the wind drops there are small quiet rustlings, the occasional tiny sound of alarm, but in general, it’s a sleeping world where uncounted unseen individuals huddle silently in their night-time refuges. As an alien invader of their rest, there’s a hush that urges my respect and reminds me that even quiet footfalls and the sound of my breathing will be disturbing someone. And you know what? The dreaming world is theirs, not mine, and I would never think of finding ‘entertainment’ by using eye-searing man-made lights – far less the noises of a battlefield – to disrupt their slumber. 

When we live in towns, we are disconnected from this intimacy and kinship with the sleeping world, so acclimatised to street lights and neon signs and shop lights and headlights that it’s all too easy to think that it’s all about us. Which is where our problem starts and ends, to be sure. But even here, wild creatures exist, tucked into corners away from our sight, foxes, birds, rodents and others, often left with nowhere else to go as we take over and decimate their ancient habitats with our urban sprawls and the ‘farms’ where we keep our victims as they wait for the grim and unnecessary deaths that our social conventions impose.

Science, as ever is slow to catch up with what we can feel at a primitive level, however much is currently emerging about the harm that man-made light can cause. There are recent studies that indicate LED streetlights are decimating insect populations and alarm bells are ringing for other species too. 

Of course these reports are not specifically about fireworks, focussing mainly on the types of lighting that our species considers essential for their general activities. However as always, it makes no sense to add the gratuitous, easily avoidable and undeniable harm of fireworks into the mix. We can stop doing it. And we should.

4 – Toxic litter pollution

Not surprisingly, the same ingredients are used in any kind of firework whether they’re marketed as ‘silent’ or not. Added to which, our fragile planet is already in dire peril as the direct result of the activities of a species that has never learned the most basic respect for a world that we share with millions of other species whose continued existence is now as seriously threatened as our own. This global climate collapse is linked to animal use and our inappropriate and destructive predation on other species, to fossil fuel use and to pollution as three of the main culprits. Fireworks combine our flagrant disrespect for our fellow creatures with an astonishing level of environmental vandalism.

In an article by The Firework Campaign UK whose site is worth exploring (while bearing in mind my earlier disclaimer),

‘Fireworks propel a cocktail of chemicals into the atmosphere, many of which can harm both people and the environment. The vivid colours in firework displays come from metallic compounds such as barium or aluminium that can have negative impacts on animal and human health.” It goes on to explain that in order to create an explosion, you need a lot of oxygen, so many fireworks contain oxidisers known as perchlorates. These can contaminate rivers, lakes and drinking water. If our rivers and lakes are contaminated, that affects anything living in, dependent on or drinking from the river. Fish, ducks, swans, deer and more. And the water goes downstream and into our oceans, carrying the problem even further.

From a DEFRA report of 2003, global emissions of air pollutants from fireworks in 2000 included copper 2.8 tonnes, potassium 100 tonnes, sodium 5.5 tonnes, magnesium 73 tonnes, barium 65 tonnes, strontium 9.9 tonnes, aluminium 86 tonnes, titanium 5.3 tonnes, as well as carbon dioxide and monoxide 160 tonnes and 120 tonnes respectively. Firework use has increased exponentially since the the time of that report.

And finally

There are always going to be those who consider that they have the right to kill without conscience while laying waste to the fragile environment we share with the other species of planet Earth. It’s the reason we’re in such a mess as a species. All I can do is to keep telling the truth. We can’t distance ourselves from the effects of the activities and atrocities we demand as consumers. 

It’s time to realise that humans are not the centre of the universe. It’s time to stop refusing to be vegan. Because everything in the world depends on it.

 

Recommended links

How fireworks harm nonhuman animals 

Scottish review of evidence on the impact of fireworks, in the context of international legislation and regulations

Emission factors for air pollutants – See Appendix 1

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG PITY

Noise pollution is hurting animals, and we don’t even know how much

Posted in Festivals, Fireworks and 'celebrations' | 3 Comments

Egg use by humans – a look at whether it’s humane.

Image by Andrew Skowron is of Magda, rescued from use as an egg machine

Today the first post I saw was about hens who had been used for eggs and it tore my heart out. I should have known better and not looked at the comments, but I did and guess what? There they all were, the inevitable pro-backyard, ‘know-where-your-food-is-coming-from-and-be-compassionate-like-me’, ‘from- the-lovely-woman-down-the-road’, ‘treats-them-like-her-children’ comments; comments that refuse to acknowledge that the fundamental principle of egg use is wrong, commenters determined to claim that the way they personally use hens is exceptional, so whatever message is being conveyed doesn’t apply to them.

Why is that? Seriously? Why are there so many people who imagine themselves to be ‘animal lovers’, who point-blank refuse to accept that using hens is simply wrong and insist that what they do is perfectly fine? Years of blogs, high quality shared links, science, expert analyses, heart wrenching photojournalist pieces, images, numerous educational sanctuary narratives and the sickening statistics have no impact at all. It’s like hitting my head off a wall.

Okay I give in

So, here’s another way to look at it. I’ll give in. Let’s just say that the ‘exceptional circumstances’ advocates are right and I’ll take it from there. Someone, somewhere, has found the only decent way on the planet to use hens for eggs, and has also found the only hens who understand the transaction required of them, and have contracted to hand over their eggs in return for food and shelter. I’m always hearing about how happy and content these hens are, so clearly that would indicate consent, and it’s all about consent, right? Do the hens consider themselves employees, or victims, or family? I’m guessing again, but I’m sure the commenters would say ‘family’ so let’s just go with that.

Just in case anyone thinks this is uncharacteristic and I’m being a pushover here, I’d also suggest that obviously the exceptional circumstance advocates must be capable of some form of advanced communication to have established the terms for this contract. Why? Well, humans are notorious for misreading the traditional methods that both humans and members of other species habitually use to communicate their wants and needs. For instance, a species that can – amongst other examples too numerous to list – interpret CO2 stunning as ‘humane’ from observing the intense screaming/individuals actually tearing their own feet off in their attempts to escape.  A species that believes it’s very plausible that those whose dead flesh lies in chunks in the mortuary aisles and whose flayed skins, wool and feathers adorn their bodies and furnishings were, as the cartoon pictures and jolly slogans on the labels assured them, ‘happy’ and ‘free’, is possibly somewhat lacking in the department of vocal and body language interpretation when it comes to run-of-the-mill stuff like refusal to cooperate, exhibiting distress, or indeed pain and terror.

Exceptional contracts

Anyway. In this instance we’ve established that that we have an exceptional human/hen contract – or several, because there is someone on almost every single post and blog. This means there must be an unknown number of humans who use hens for eggs and a number of hens who are okay with the deal. I’m not sure about how many we’re talking about. I’m guessing not many, but admittedly that’s only because I’ve never actually encountered any of them personally. Even several hundred million would be no more than a drop in this particular ocean, however.

Since they promote it, these humans must necessarily buy in to the principle that using other individuals for their bodies, their lives and the result of their reproductive processes is morally acceptable. Clearly this is a complete rejection of animal rights and veganism, but if the people and the hens – PARTICULARLY the hens – are happy, and as long as no one is claiming to that the arrangement is representative of veganism, OR that their arrangement aligns with the principles of animal rights, then it’s difficult to argue. Sadly, the world is full of nonvegans. I’m not going to examine the contract details further.

So are we done with this conversation?

Is that the end of the matter then? Am I going to shut up? Well, no. It really isn’t as easy as that.

I’m honestly never sure what the ‘humane use’ advocates are hoping to achieve with the denials and contradictions. On one hand they clearly consider what they are doing is okay but where does that lead? Are they saying their way is the way everyone should be doing it? Or are they saying that they’re the only ones who should be allowed to do it and everyone else should stop? Leaving aside questions about where the exceptional hens are sourced, what happens to them when their bodies are no longer able to keep up their end of the deal, veterinary treatment costs and a host of other issues, I’ve read lots about how exceptional-circumstances advocates frequently distribute surplus eggs to others ‘to reduce demand’ for other types of egg production.  In other words, as humans who clearly promote egg consumption, their customers are being reassured by them that bird eggs are;

(a) an appropriate food for humans, that
(b) there is no problem about this as long as it’s done in a particular way but that
(c) other production methods do exist for which demand is to be discouraged.

This is where I need to highlight a number of uncomfortable facts, including scale and the focus of consumer demand. As an animal rights advocate, I shall leave it to others to denounce the suitability of bird eggs as human food.

Scale – seeing the big picture

Tearing our focus from the exceptional few, and excluding the billions of members of numerous other avian species who are subjected to the same ordeal, let’s remember that there’s a global flock of approximately 8 billion individual hens (presumably minus contracted individuals and similarly exceptional hens) trapped in a regime that uses them mercilessly for their eggs, until  they are sent to a slaughterhouse. Intimately connected to that, are approximately 8 billion male chicks who are macerated or suffocated annually within a day of hatching because they will never lay eggs. as well as breeding facilities where hens with no hiding places exist alongside roosters, laying drawers full of motherless eggs to await hatching in temperature controlled store rooms. There’s also ongoing industry-funded research working tirelessly behind the scenes of the ‘happy farms’ to make hens lay more eggs, bigger eggs, in less time, for less food, in smaller spaces etc. None of these aspects can be ignored.

In other words, there is an extremely big picture here, affecting uncounted billions of defenceless birds every year. Each one of these individuals is subjected to an unspeakable ordeal that deserves our recognition and action. It is unthinkable that the real, documented and undeniable experience of the majority COULD ever or SHOULD ever be erased by those who promote the use of an exceptional few.

It occurred to me that a claim to be exceptional is double-edged. On one side is a claim that, in direct contradiction of every currently credible source, a hitherto unrecognised consensual means of exploitation exists. But on the other side is an acknowledgement that the status quo is something to discourage, given so often as a justification for distributing backyard eggs.

So why is it that apart from industry propaganda, the contradictions scattered across social media animal rights pages all come from individuals who for whatever reasons are so keen to justify egg use? Why don’t we find passionate people on blogs like this, promoting this alleged consensual use while addressing the philosophical, technical, practical and operational issues connected with nonveganism, linking to science and impartial experts without vested interests in animal use?

Why don’t we see well thought-out proposals about how all these billions of egg-layers, their parents and siblings may be accommodated on our flooding blazing, suffocating planet, in comfort and respect, with space and sunshine, freedom and dust-baths, companionship and retirement plans and all the things every chicken needs? Why is it that only vegans and sanctuaries talk of hatcheries and selective breeding and slaughterhouses, of the burden of hyper-ovulation, of hormone implants, and the recognised endemic diseases arising from exploitation? 

And then, there’s consumer demand

There’s a big (enormous) picture here and it applies to every single type of exploitation, whatever the reason and whatever the species.

Even IF that ‘exceptional’ way to farm lives, bodies and reproduction in a morally acceptable way has been found, it’s not rocket science to realise it wouldn’t come cheap for it to become generally adopted. But as consumer demand always focuses on the cheapest option, any level of sanction for the principle of exploitation will ALWAYS lead directly to the worst, the most brutal and the most exploitative method of production. As long as our species clings to the idea that other animals exist for use as our resources, why wouldn’t consumers opt for the cheapest option? It’s the way the world works. 

And that’s why every ‘animal lover’ who condones any degree of exploitation, automatically reinforces the legitimacy of consumer demand for that substance or service. For example, someone who presents themselves as an ‘animal lover’ while eating and/or using other animals of one or more species, conveys a message that it’s not the principle of exploitation that’s wrong, it’s how it’s done/who is doing it/the species affected/the country where it happens etc. There are countless nonvegan ‘animal lovers’ out there broadcasting that message and wherever it appears, it’s the most utter betrayal of our species’ trillions of land and aquatic victims

These unfortunates are still queueing or sitting in piles of crates in the slaughterhouses quaking and whimpering in dread of things most humans can’t even bear to educate themselves about; they are still being dragged, suffocating and bleeding from the oceans and sea pens; they are still behind bars in the zoos and the labs and the hell holes we’d rather not know about.

Did it help to give in?

So here I am. Clearly I’m sceptical about the existence of ‘exceptions’ and I won’t pretend otherwise but I’m back in the same place as usual. Because even if it were true that consensual exploitation is a possibility, the bottom line is that when we are not vegan, the very fact of our acceptance in principle of nonhuman exploitation, means we are personally responsible for the worst, most depraved, most sickening barbarity that occurs to meet nonvegan consumer demand.

And yes. That includes using hens for eggs. It ESPECIALLY includes hens in an escalating egg market. Like every victim of our species, the least we owe them is to speak out against the atrocity of nonveganism in a world where the majority of humans are not being exposed to the concept of animal rights or the veganism that is the inevitable consequence of accepting it.

There are far too many humans who are only too willing to listen, without engaging any critical thought, to the pro-use, ‘know-where-your-food-is-coming-from-and-be-compassionate’ nonvegan advocates.

And we ALL know who loses out every single time that happens. 

Posted in Advocacy, Chickens and eggs, Exceptions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Crocodile tears – getting under our skin

In the past few days, I’ve seen several excellent posts condemning a well-known designer brand for their use of crocodile skins for leather goods while exposing the conditions in which these innocent creatures are ‘farmed’, with images and descriptions that made the bile rise in my throat. Such barbarity is utterly appalling. It should be noted that this isn’t the first time this particular atrocity has been exposed, nor is this the first designer to be associated with it. And don’t misunderstand me. It’s good that these horrors are being exposed. Light should be shone into ALL the dark hells where our fellow earthlings endure the atrocities that our speciesism is demanding and paying for. 

Angry and sad emotes abound on every post that I’ve seen. So why haven’t I shared them? After all we should be angry, we should be disgusted, we should be outraged.  But anger, outrage and disgust are by no means the whole story. 

Outrage and righteous indignation

It’s my experience that any focus on what is undoubtedly an ‘exclusive’ and expensive substance derived from the unconsenting bodies of other animal species attracts ready condemnation from all sorts of people whose lives and choices will never be affected by the items in question. It’s the same reaction as the one we see on articles about fur. It’s the same reaction we see about eating dogs and cats in countries where it’s not part of the culture. And much of the most heated outrage comes from nonvegan ‘animal lovers’.

On posts and articles about the subjects I’ve mentioned, there’s always a surge of vitriol, there’s very often racism, and there’s always hate speech about ‘ugly people’ with ‘no souls’ and ‘I would rather die than do that’ hyperbole. I’ve written before about how easy it is to be outraged about things that will never affect us personally, how quick we can be to point a finger of blame at things that ‘other people’ do. 

And in relation to animal rights, this can be so tragically counterproductive. On a tide of righteous indignation, what ‘others’ do can serve to make us feel better about our own actions whatever they are. We reassure ourselves that whatever we may be doing, it’s not as bad as that is. Despite having barely any knowledge of the brutal and blood-spattered consequences of their own nonvegan choices, posts about crocodiles, dogs, cats, fur, foie gras and a host of other niche topics attract universal outrage and righteous indignation. How do I know? It’s no secret that I spent over half a century as a nonvegan ‘animal lover’ and I’ve been observing and blogging for several years.

Making connections and learning lessons

So, what’s my point? Well as I noted at the start, shining a spotlight is not the whole story. Yes, it attracts attention and that’s a good start. However, what I try so hard to do is to help those who are just like I once was, to join the dots and see the links between the shocking exposés on social media and the socially acceptable parallels in which they are personally participating.

Not one of us would change places with a single one of our victims whatever their species. And for as long as we refuse to be vegan, then by definition we are pouring money into the industries that service our demands for the broken bodies and destroyed lives of almost 3 trillion innocent individuals every year. If you are outraged by the crocodile posts and are not vegan, then really there are some hard questions begging to be asked. 

As an animal rights blogger and advocate, I see it as my task to invite readers to feel every bit as outraged and disgusted about a pair of *slink leather gloves for £5 out of Asda, and the strip of skin from an unknown corpse selling as a belt for £3 on the bargain counter at Tesco, as they do about a £60,000 handbag from a designer.

Because frankly, from the perspective of the victims, there’s no difference between them.

So please, be outraged. Be very outraged. Be outraged enough to stop refusing to be vegan.

 

 

*Slink leather is the leather made from the hide of unborn calves, it can also be applied to the skin of an unborn lamb as well.

1 trillion is 1,000,000,000,000

Posted in Leather and skin, Victims in the shadows | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Last call for planet Earth

Today I was motivated to write a short blog on passing a roadside advert that has stood for many years, directing shoppers to a butcher in a nearby village. Bragging about ‘100% Scottish beef’ and ‘award winning pies and sausages, it’s a true life counterpoint to the many ridiculous accusations levelled at vegans for ‘shoving your ideas down other people throats’, accusations by those who shove other individuals down their throats and don’t like it being pointed out that their brutalised victims were not in any way willing. 

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to hear that blogging and writing about animal rights is not a cheerful occupation. For me, it requires objectivity, honesty, and continuous self-evaluation, seeking the most effective way to get the message across that there is nothing special about our species that entitles us to lay waste to our fellow creatures and the living world they share with us. Even on a good day, it’s a battle to keep despair at bay.

What was it about today?

Today as my journey took me past the fields of sheep and cattle, the date of whose blood drenched fate was decided and booked into a slaughterhouse long before the violence that conceived them, I averted my eyes as always, and found tears streaming down my face. Tears for them as always, because I know what awaits them and it’s far, far, worse than the bleak existence without shelter from the Scottish weather that has been their miserable lot so far. Today there were tears for my own species.

And today there were tears for my children. Page followers will know that my younger son died suddenly last year, leaving his brother and me with a raw hole in our lives that can never heal. No mother should find herself speaking a eulogy for her son. But similarly, no parent should have to contemplate the nightmare that will be faced by any of their children who someday will be left without them, as they struggle against unimaginable adversity on the set of this disaster movie that we’re all trapped in.

As I passed the butcher’s sign and the doomed victims in the desolate fields, I reflected on the flurry of reports and editorials being published, in particular the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, amidst the infernos and the floods, the record temperatures and the evacuations, the droughts and the famines. I am forced to admit there is no evidence of superior intelligence being demonstrated by my species where the majority appear to be pointing metaphorical fingers at someone else; other people, other nations, other corporations, other governments, always OTHERS as a means to excuse their personal continued apathy and ‘business as usual’ approach to sticking their individual and collective heads in the sand. 

We are assured by the most reliable scientific evidence available that even if every activity that’s releasing carbon into our atmosphere were to cease right now this minute, it is already too late to prevent increasing instability of the global climate reaching well into the future. An intelligent species would have woken up to smell the coffee long ago.

Business as usual. Carry on. Nothing to see here.

The problem? Well the problem is that everywhere I look, I see ‘business as usual’; adverts for dead flesh, adverts for eggs, adverts for dairy products; adverts for holidays abroad and cruises and cars. Even adverts, editorials, and opinion pieces calling for lukewarm watered-down half-measures that speak of how ‘future generations’ will look back on the events of the present day are an exercise in outright dishonesty. Lukewarm watered-down half measures mean that there may not even BE future generations of our species left to reflect on our failings. Those who remain will be battling a world where the challenges are exponentially worse than today – they won’t be sitting musing about who to blame at their computers – a pastime that is still available for some of us. They’ll be trying to find shelter and heat and food in a place that isn’t flooded or burnt. That’s the reality.

As usual, animal agriculture, which alongside fossil fuels is one of the main culprits for the catastrophe that is crashing down over us all, is still preaching their message of denial, and individual consumers are so busy blaming someone else that far too few are squaring up to the moral obligation to take personal responsibility for the activities that got us here in the first place by stopping paying for them to continue.

Are we too late?

I couldn’t begin to list every violation, every atrocity, every affront to decency that surrounds us and is contributing to the plight of our host planet and those who call it home. We all need to think for ourselves – we all need to face our own eyes when we look in a mirror. We have to acknowledge the very real likelihood that we won’t be able to save the world but I suppose it comes down to the kind of person that each of us is. Do we give in under pressure or do we decide to keep on trying and go down fighting if we must? 

The world we are destroying belongs to our victims every bit as much as it ever belonged to us. As we saw off the branch our species is sitting on, we must remember that our victims are sitting alongside us, helpless passengers on our journey to ruin.

Is it too late to make a difference? I’ll admit it probably is. I’ve had some tell me that they think it’s all over so what’s the point of doing anything at all? I’ve heard it said that the world would be better off without humans – a speciesist viewpoint if ever there was one. We are animals too.  And besides, we’re talking about events that affect all Earth’s inhabitants. Not just humans. I find it ironic that the moment apathy starts to crack, we find defeatism close on its heels. But never before has the conversation in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings seemed so apt:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time.”
“And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

What is everything in the world worth to you?

Whatever the future holds, this truly is the fight of our lives. As individuals we can do nothing less than live true to the values we believe in, respecting and valuing each other, our families and our friends of all species. Holding these values means that as an absolute minimum we must stop being nonvegan. 

Then at least we can meet our own eyes in the mirror and know that we’re doing our best for as long as we possibly can because we have everything in the world to fight for. I hope to find the strength to do that. Do you?

Posted in Addressing resistance to change, Global disasters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Victims in the shadows: octopuses, squids and cuttlefishes

Best of Show in the 9th Annual Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest https://www.uwphotographyguide.com/ocean-art-contest-winners-2020

Octopus are soft-bodied, eight-limbed molluscs of the order Octopoda. The order consists of some 300 species and is grouped within the class Cephalopoda with squids, cuttlefish, and nautiloids. 

This blog was originally inspired by the many excellent articles I’ve read which provide insight to these fascinating creatures. These articles are always popular on social media, even amongst those who would think nothing of devouring these same individuals as a dietary indulgence.

However fascinating they are, as an animal rights blogger I’m only too aware that alongside approximately 3 trillion of their fellow water-dwellers every year, cephalopods are considered – like every other species on the planet – to exist solely for the use and exploitation of the most brutal and oppressive species that has ever existed. Humans.

So I’d like to stress something really important. There is no such thing as a ‘food’ animal. There is no relevant distinction between those whose corpses we casually toss into supermarket trolleys or whose charred remains lie on our plates, and the other creatures who share our homes or our lives. This also applies in the case of the cephalopod corpses that we, in our arrogance, treat as ingredients, and the stars of the videos and articles below. The concept of ‘food’ animals, like our self-serving laws and our invented conditions for our behaving with basic decency towards other species, are all a fabrication and lead to depravities we can scarcely imagine. 

Disrespect hiding in plain sight

I started to look for statistics as I usually do, but even I was surprised to find that a search for the numbers ‘slaughtered’ yielded no useable information. I changed the search word to ‘harvest’ and guess what? No wonder the mainstream gives them little recognition and almost no moral consideration. The brutal and unnecessary terminating of the lives that, being sentient, they value as we value our own, does not even merit the appropriate terminology for the atrocity we commit. The very mildest appropriate word for such brutality, is ‘slaughter’, not ‘harvest’.

To add insult to injury, when I looked up the most basic scientific classification of octopuses, the category ‘cooking time’ came after their description, class, order and anatomy. Cooking time?! What the hell? Which is just one of the reasons why this blog fits into the ‘Victims in the shadows’ category. Harvested. Like wheat and corn, like potatoes and cabbages, with a helpful note about cooking time included. Not even a nod in the direction of their vast intelligence, their zest for life and their rights as inhabitants of our shared planet, rights NOT to be hijacked and categorised as our property by laws we make up ourselves to legitimise the bloodbath we leave in our wake.

Slaughter numbers and uses

Current statistics are hard to track down. For this reason I have used the most recent that I could source, but given the dizzying escalation in the numbers of all our species’ victims, these numbers must be viewed as an extremely rough under-estimate. As with all aquatic  creatures, statistics will exclude vast groups, significantly those caught as ‘bycatch’ when other species were the target. It is also indicative of our complete absence of respect for their lives that their brutal slaughter is measured in tonnage rather than individuals. 

Octopuses – mainly used for their flesh.  An estimated 350,000 tonnes taken from the wild annually with a ‘harvest’ weight that may vary between 750g and 3 kg, averages out at least 200 million individuals slaughtered in a year.

Squids – mainly used for their flesh with ‘squid ink’ being used as a food additive. This is a dark fluid that squids produce as a defence mechanism. An estimate of 1,600,000 tonnes taken from the wild annually at a typical ‘market size’ of 500g is at least 3.2 billion individuals.

Cuttlefishes – used by humans as food, as a source of ink, and for the cuttlebone (a dietary supplement for caged birds) An estimate of 500,000 tonnes taken from the wild annually. Average market weight estimated at 1 kg which translates to approximately 500,000,000 individuals.

Total estimated number of individual cephalopods slaughtered annually is thus well in excess of 3.9 billion.

‘Farming’ lives for profit

Unlike many other aquatic individuals whose numbers captured from their wild habitats are supplemented by ‘farmed’ victims, by far the majority of current cephalopod victims are caught in the wild, with the business being so lucrative that the race is on amongst several countries to develop ways to ‘farm’ their bodies. 

Late in 2019, in ‘Issues in Science and Technology’,  ‘The Case Against Octopus Farming provided information about why prominent scientists consider it unethical to even consider pursuing methods of ‘farming’. It’s worth reading the article in its entirety.

‘Octopuses stand out among invertebrates for their complex behavior. They are capable of problem-solving, mimicking their surroundings using color changes that take place on a scale of seconds, outwitting predatory sharks, discriminating individual humans, engaging in playful behavior, and hunting in response to cooperative signals sent by fish. As these patterns of behavior suggest, octopuses (as well as some other cephalopods) have sophisticated nervous systems and large brains.

Given their exceptional abilities, one might ask whether humans should be eating octopus at all, but here we want to raise a different ethical question. As global demand for octopus grows, especially in affluent markets, so have efforts to farm them. We believe that octopuses are particularly ill-suited to a life in captivity and mass-production, for reasons both ethical and ecological.

Right now, the farming of octopus is constrained by the technology—it has been difficult to reliably keep animals alive through the early stages in their lives. But with further investments, research, and testing, the technology may well become available to farm octopus at an industrial scale. It is our hope that if such an option does become practical, society will recognize the serious welfare and environmental problems associated with such projects and octopus farming will be discouraged or prevented. Better still would be for governments, private companies, and academic institutions to stop investing in octopus farming now and to instead focus their efforts on achieving a truly sustainable and compassionate future for food production.

Similar challenges apply to efforts to farm squids as well as cuttlefishes but predictably, while consumers demand the corpses for their plates, there’s money to be made and that alone is incentive for exploiters to keep on trying to find ways to maximise their profits. 

What has intelligence got to do with anything?

Intelligence is not and should never be the yardstick by which we measure the moral value of another individual of any species. If it were, then I doubt if any would dispute that large numbers of the human population might find their future at risk. The more the topic of intelligence is considered, the more abundantly clear it becomes that despite the limitations the majority of us have, whatever method by which we decide to define intelligence, however nebulous, however narrow, is the yardstick by which we as a species, generally presume to measure every other. Just like the laws we make up to legitimise our outrageous behaviour towards our fellow beings, the qualifying criteria that we invent are hopelessly biased and anything but fair or objective.

However, in the case of octopuses, I’ve always been fascinated by their well-documented achievements. I have never promoted intelligence as a reason for consumers with an insatiable appetite for death, to stop killing and eating others who value their life.  However in the accounts of the interactions and deeds of octopuses, I find individuals that I’d really like to get to know and appreciate; whose alien bodies, unknowable senses and different ways of seeing the world we share, would almost certainly prove instructive to those of our own species with open minds. 

Look on in wonder and admiration

Finally I invite you to browse the following selection of links and videos. It would take a closed mind indeed to fail to be moved and intrigued by these. And when we learn to truly respect those who share their planet with us, the only logical thing we can do is to withdraw our own unnecessary demands for them to be harmed and become vegan.

1 – Let’s start with an explanation of the image at the top of this piece.

This photo won best of show in the 9th Annual Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest. It was taken by the octopus. We see anthropomorphic terms being used in articles about the photo; terms such as the octopus ‘stealing’ the camera, and suggestions that the photo was simply accidental. Perhaps it was, perhaps it wasn’t. But perhaps the whole tone is an all too familiar attempt to retain the delusion of superiority by which our species butchers, chars and devours nonhumans without cause or conscience.

2 – How intelligent is a cephalopod?

‘The soft-bodied cephalopods including octopus, cuttlefish, and squid are broadly considered to be the most cognitively advanced group of invertebrates. Previous research has demonstrated that these large-brained molluscs possess a suite of cognitive attributes that are comparable to those found in some vertebrates, including highly developed perception, learning, and memory abilities. Cephalopods are also renowned for performing sophisticated feats of flexible behaviour, which have led to claims of complex cognition such as causal reasoning, future planning, and mental attribution.’

3 – Observations from Octopolis and Octlantis by Peter Godfrey Smith

‘At Octlantis, I saw an interesting use of a found object. A small octopus was staring at one of our unmanned cameras from its den, and then went off camera and returned with a piece of dead sponge. It arranged this on the top of the den, as something between a roof and a helmet, and huddled beneath it, looking out. I am not sure that the little octopus was bothered by the camera, and wanted a barrier against its presence, but it did look that way.’  Read on at the link.

4 – Wild Octopus Is Always Excited To See His Human Best Friend

5 – Suckers for learning: why octopuses are so intelligent

‘Octopuses meet every criteria for the definition of intelligence: they show a great flexibility in obtaining information (using several senses and learning socially), in processing it (through discriminative and conditional learning), in storing it (through long-term memory) and in applying it toward both predators and prey.’

6 – Why Cuttlefish Are Smarter Than We Thought

‘Cuttlefish are clever creatures, and squirting saltwater is not their only party trick. They’re experts at camouflage, adjusting the colour and texture of their skin to match their environment. Plus, cuttlefish possess a range of advanced cognitive abilities, including a sophisticated memory, to help them optimise their foraging behaviour and adapt to changing prey conditions.

The ability to exert self-control varies across species. Rats, chickens, and pigeons find it difficult to resist food and can only delay gratification for a handful of seconds. Primates and brainy birds, meanwhile, can tolerate delays of up to several minutes to obtain food of higher quality or quantity.

7 – Octopuses have two alternating sleep states 

“It is not possible to affirm that they are dreaming because they cannot tell us that, but our results suggest that during ‘active sleep’ the octopus might experience a state analogous to REM sleep, which is the state during which humans dream the most,” she says. “If octopuses indeed dream, it is unlikely that they experience complex symbolic plots like we do. ‘Active sleep’ in the octopus has a very short duration—typically from a few seconds to one minute.’ Read link for more info and video.

8 – Octo in a cup by Pall Sigurdsson 

‘We spent a whole dive and most of our air saving this octopus from what was bound to be a cruel fate. The coconut octopus, also known as veined octopus, is born with the instinct to protect itself by creating a mobile home out of coconut or clam shells. This particular individual however has been trapped by their instincts and have made a home out of a plastic cup they found underwater. While a shell is a sturdy protection, a passing eel or flounder would probably swallow the cup with the octopus in it, most likely also killing the predator or weakening it to a point where it will be soon eaten by an even bigger fish. We found this particular octopus at about 20 meters under the water, we tried for a long time to give it shells hoping that it would trade the shell. Coconut octopus are famous for being very picky about which shells they keep so we had to try with many different shells before it found one to be acceptable.’ Follow link for video.

9 – My Octopus Teacher

A VERY highly acclaimed documentary available on Netflix and occasionally on other online sources, where a filmmaker forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, learning as the animal shares the mysteries of her world.

10 – Did a Cuttlefish Write This?

‘[T]hey have three hearts, green blood and one of the largest brains among invertebrates,” she said. “And they can regenerate their limbs, they can camouflage. 

Cuttlefish are more closely related to insects than to humans. They have no true bones in their bodies, just an internal shell filled with air that helps them float. Their blood gets that blue-green tint from hemocyanin, which they use instead of hemoglobin to carry oxygen. The smallest species are scarcely more than an inch long and the largest may reach more than two feet. Most species tend to live alone, and they can be found in the waters of nearly every continent except the Americas.’

11 – Like humans – cuttlefish can form complex memories

‘[D]ynamics between males and female squid are “many-fold more complex than what we had previously thought. We have so much more to learn,” Sampaio says. “The more we learn about squid,” Sampaio says, “the more we’re blown away by their complexities and quirks.

13 – Cuttlefish have good memories even in old age

14 – Octopus, crabs and lobsters feel pain – this is how we found out (December 2021)

15 – Do octopuses feel pain? (July 2022)

16 – OCTOPUSES CREATE AN “ORIGIN OF INTELLIGENCE” CONUNDRUM 

As Godfrey–Smith puts it, “Cephalopods are an island of mental complexity in the sea of invertebrate animals.” Because our most recent common ancestor was so simple and lies so far back, cephalopods are an independent experiment in the evolution of large brains and complex behavior. If we can make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings, it is not because of a shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over.” If twice, then likely many more.

 

Note – some may question the use of the plurals’ octopuses’, ‘squids’ and ‘cuttlefishes’ when we are more used to seeing the words without the ‘s’ at the end. Most of the terminology surrounding our use of others employs euphemisms about the substances taken from them to discourage consumer association with those who are paying for their indulgence with their lives. I try to use words that remind us that the topic here is the use – the UNNECESSARY use – of sentient individuals in very large numbers, rather than cooking ingredients.
 
Some links and references used in developing this article:
 
 
 
 
Posted in Aquatic individuals, Octopuses, squids and cuttlefishes, Victims in the shadows | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments