Is the reality of the situation simply too unpleasant for us to look squarely in the eye? Do we instinctively avert our glance from the images of graphic suffering, choosing instead to push these horrors to the farthest recesses of our minds? And do we then return to the familiar trappings of a sanitized universe, having successfully distanced ourselves from this transitory glimpse into hell, ensuring ourselves a good night's sleep, and persuading ourselves that someone else is responsible for the misery and wretchedness of the poor creatures who just happen to comprise a large portion of our diet?
But what if we were forced to take a closer, more defining look at the problem? What if, for example, our job was that of feeding a veal calf? Could we in all consciousness administer a formula to this weeks old infant that we knew was making him sicker and sicker? And as he strained against the tether about his neck, would we see that he wished only to be able to walk, play, or even just stretch his legs? How easily could we bear witness to this constant agonizing struggle, knowing one day his resolve would begin to weaken, as he slowly gave in to depression, becoming listless and dispirited, but still unable to escape his physical torment?
Or what if, instead, we were assigned the task of force feeding ducks being raised for foie gras? How easy would it be for us to forcibly grab the neck of one duck after another, jamming a long feeding tube down their throats, while pumping obscene quantities of soggy mush into their stomachs? And as this regimen wore on for days or even weeks, would we take the time to notice the increasing numbers of birds clumsily attempting to stand or walk, but unable to do so without toppling over? As they lay on their abdomens, crippled and in pain, would we even perceive the ones pushing themselves along with their wings across a feces-covered floor, trying desperately to reach a water nozzle?
Have we truly become so indifferent to the tragedy of real-life suffering that even these horrifying images would fail to stir us? And though we may care about things like cruelty to animals, have our priorities become so skewed over time, that we discover with increasing ease we can convince ourselves there are simply too many other "more important" things to worry about?
I wonder how many hundreds of communities have come to the realization too late that factory farms were one of the things they should have been worrying about, as they woke up one morning to a foul stench in the air, their water contaminated, their land devalued, an unusual number of their residents taken ill. I wonder, too, if they possibly noticed the presence of a new neighbor in their midst - a gulag of insidious proportions and incalculable torments. Venturing close enough to this beast might they even be able to hear the screams emanating from within? I also wonder how many more communities will allow their vision of America to be tainted by these corporate cesspools, spewing pollution into their environment while causing agony to untold numbers of innocent creatures.
So at what point will we decide to stop turning the other way? How close will the problem have to get before it becomes our problem? Close enough to smell? Close enough to hear? Close enough to slap what remains of our humanity in the face, and scream at us to wake the hell up? What will it take to make us recognize that when an environment exists which allows for the wholesale treatment of animals as though they were objects or machines rather than living beings, something is horribly wrong; and that it's not only our problem, it's our responsibility to act and to act quickly, lest we wake up one morning and find that the time to act has passed us by?
Many have responded to the situation by adapting a vegetarian or vegan standard. This is a good thing, since every person who makes this choice translates to one less person lending financial support to industrial farming. However, as much as I respect and admire anyone who would completely re-evaluate their eating habits or even their entire lifestyle on behalf of a mistreated animal, it simply isn't enough. Successfully purging meat and dairy products from your table is one thing, but how much will such actions contribute to actually stopping the pain and abuse? Right now, about 6.6 billion people, all but 1% of the world's population, depend on a meat-based diet. One day, this may dramatically change, but over the course of the next few decades, I seriously question whether enough people will ever abandon their carnivorous values to have a significant impact on the current state of agriculture. Meat is a cornerstone of our lives. One might say we're addicted, fixated, even enslaved.
No, something far more effective is demanded of us. To bring about significant reform, what we really need is the rule of law. While one person can make a difference, one law can make an enormous difference. And even people who're unwilling to give up their dependence on meat, might still be persuaded to support legislation which would guarantee a more compassionate treatment of the animals they consume. In short, we need to be practical and pursue those actions which will bring about real relief to the victims in question.
One thing is certain. To a large degree, we can no longer depend on our elected officials to come riding in on a white horse and save the day. Over time, corruption in government has become the rule rather than the exception, while special interests and elected representatives walk so closely in unison with each other it's actually getting hard to tell them apart. Like siamese twins they traverse the halls of assembly, their very presence making a mockery of the institutions they've been designated to uphold. I sometimes wonder, in fact, if special interest groups could possibly squeeze one more unscrupulous politician into their back pocket. Honestly, it must be unbelievably crowded in there.
Corruption notwithstanding, average citizens still possess the power to control our legislative processes. In approximately half the states of this nation, an electoral procedure known as the voter initiative allows citizens to circumvent their elected representatives on virtually any issue. Clearly, this is no easy task, requiring a submission process that must meet specified regulations, formats, deadlines, etc., not to mention the garnering of a substantial number of petition signatures from registered voters. Fortunately there are a large number of state animal welfare and protection agencies, as well as numerous national animal rights organizations, who are more than willing to offer their support for these efforts.
A prime example of how such an endeavor can succeed is Proposition 204, which was accepted overwhelmingly in 2006 by the voters of Arizona. Proposition 204 is a landmark voter initiative which will ease the living conditions for breeding sows and veal calves contained and processed anywhere within the state; and was not only tirelessly supported by the Arizona Humane Society, but also received generous financial assistance from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Farm Sanctuary, two highly-respected and powerful animal rights organizations.
In those states not offering the initiative process, a more community-minded approach becomes necessary, involving the organization of grassroots movements and campaigns, again with the help of statewide and national animal rights agencies. By tapping into the inherent compassion that most of us feel for animals, it then becomes possible to develop a strongly united constituency, motivating even the most corrupt of politicians to re-evaluate the terms of their professional survival.
And what about the federal arena? In June of last year, a groundbreaking piece of legislation, H.R.5557 (The Farm Animal Stewardship Purchasing Act) was introduced in the U.S. House and referred to the Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Government Reform by Representative Christopher Shays of Connecticut. In a nutshell, the provisions of this bill would prohibit the federal government from purchasing food derived from any animal not raised in compliance with a stipulated set of humane requirements. At a minimum, the bill would positively impact and improve the lives of millions of animals throughout the nation.
But now for the bad news. Little if any action will doubtless be taken on H.R.5557 till the new Congress convenes in 2007. And even then, if you know anything about Congress, you know that massive amounts of bills are being introduced to committees on a continuing basis. The odds of any one statute surviving amidst a countless throng of legislative wishlists and local concerns is slim at best. What a bill needs to rise above it's peers is sponsorship, and at present, H.R.5557 is sponsored by only 15 members. So please contact your representative in the House (find out who this is here) and ask them to offer their sponsorship. You can also contact members of the two relevant House committees (find out who these are here and here) and ask for their support. I can guarantee you these congressmen are already being bombarded with correspondence (and money) from those who would like nothing better than to see the factory farm environment remain exactly as it is.
I don't know if farm animals sit in their caged prisons day after day yearning for someone or something to rescue them or whether they simply pass the time, languishing in misery, believing this is how their lives are supposed to be. What I do know is that these are sentient beings. They think, they feel, they learn, they remember, they forget. They're capable of experiencing joy, excitement, stress, anxiety, and fear. And right now, they're enduring a great amount of injury due to the actions of humans, actions that are an abomination. At times the idea of their torment consumes my thoughts, keeping me awake at night, filling me with rage, moving me to tears, and stirring me to action. There's no doubt in my mind these poor creatures are in desperate need of rescuing. Their pain is unbearable. It's unjustified and unwarranted. It's a crime against creation and an insult to the creator.
Won't you please help them?