Gary L. Francione

 

On his book Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation

Cover Interview of February 01, 2010

A close-up

If a “just browsing” reader were to pick up Animals as Persons in a bookstore, I would hope that s/he would first encounter pages 26-28, where I first describe the phenomenon I call our “moral schizophrenia” with respect to nonhuman animals.

Our moral thinking about animals is confused to the point of being delusional.  We say that we regard as morally wrong the imposition of “unnecessary” suffering and death on animals.  Whatever the finer points about the meaning of necessity, if it means anything at all in this context, it must mean that we cannot justify imposing suffering and death on animals for reasons of mere pleasure, amusement, or convenience.  We excoriated Michael Vick for participating in dog fighting because the dogs suffered and died only because Vick and his friends derived pleasure from this activity.  But how is Vick any different from those of us who eat meat and animal products?

We kill and eat approximately 56 billion animals annually, not including fish.  There is no doubt that the overwhelming majority—almost all—of these animals have absolutely horrible lives and deaths and are treated in ways that clearly and undisputedly constitute torture.  The animal you ate for dinner last night—even if raised in the most “humane” or in “free-range”  circumstances—was treated as badly if not worse than Michael Vick’s dogs.

And there is no distinction between meat and other animal products.  Animals used for dairy are kept alive longer, treated at least as badly as animals used for meat, and end up in the same slaughterhouse.  There is probably more suffering in a glass of milk than in a pound of steak.

No one maintains that it is necessary to eat animals to lead an optimally healthy lifestyle and an increasing number of mainstream health care professionals tell us that animal foods are detrimental to human health.  Animal agriculture is a disaster for the environment because it involves a very inefficient use of natural resources and creates water pollution, soil erosion, and greenhouse gases.  The only justifications we have for the pain, suffering, and death that we impose on billions of animals are that we enjoy eating animal foods, or that it is convenient to do so, or that it is just plain habit.  We treat some nonhumans as members of our family; we stick forks into others.