Branded for Animal Rights
by Emily Moran Barwick
The moment the brand
hits my skin, I can't help but think of them. Him cramped in a metal cell,
absolutely terrified, the barrel of a gun to his temple. Her crying out as
her child is ripped away from her moments after his birth, the third child
of hers taken from her this way. And here I lie, face down on the cold
earth, my head freshly shorn of its mid-back-length hair, my side literally
on fire as the brand melts through layers of my flesh.
Unlike me, they weren't so lucky. Unlike me, they lost
In the United States alone, 8.3 billion animals were
killed for food in 2012, according to the USDA's National Agriculture's
Statistics Service. Given this data does not include fish, marine animals,
crustaceans, rabbits, other farmed animals, or animals killed for their fur
or other "by-products," this figure is a gross underestimation.
Bashevis Singer, Jewish Author and Nobel Laureate wrote, "in relation to
them [animals], all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal
Treblinka." Theodor Adorno, German Jewish philosopher, sociologist, and
musicologist, stated, "Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a
slaughterhouse and thinks: they are only animals."
This is a global
holocaust beyond the scale of recorded history: In the split second the
brand is touching my skin, 263.2 animals in the US and 4,756.5 animals
worldwide lose their lives.
It is January 27th, 2013, the day
designated by the United Nations as the International Day of Commemoration
in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. On this day in Iowa City, Iowa,
at approximately 8 a.m., I am branded with a steel cattle iron in front of a
rusted shed by a desolate railroad track.
On October 2, 2012, three
vegan activists in Israel were branded with the number 269 in a public
square in Tel Aviv. Having visited an Israeli factory farm and encountered a
calf tagged with the industry-given number of 269, these activists had
themselves branded in the traditional fire-heated method long employed by
the farming industry. The manifesto of their organization 269life, states,
"The branding of the calf's number, chosen by the industry to be ‘269,' is
for us an act of solidarity and immortalization. We hope to be able to raise
awareness and empathy towards those whose cries of terror and pain are only
heard by steel bars and the blood stained walls of the slaughterhouses."
I contacted Sasha Boojor, one of 269life's founders, and discussed the
possibility of staging an event in Iowa City. As a resident of Iowa, I am
painfully aware that I live in the heart of industrial farming and
agriculture. Out of the over 10,000,000 pigs that were slaughtered in
November 2012, 2,700,000 of them were killed in Iowa, a total well over two
times that of the next highest state.
The center of the United States
is the historical source of factory farming as we know it. Born in Chicago
in the days of Sinclair's The Jungle, and "perfected" to a horrific
efficiency decades later in Denison, Iowa by Iowa Beef Packers (IBP),
assembly-line slaughter is a product of the American Midwest. Henry Ford
himself found the inspiration for his automobile factory in the efficiency
of a Chicago beef plant.
As with every industry, the faster the line
moves, the more product produced, the higher the profit. Only here,
"product" is the flesh of living beings, who are "produced" by violent
slaughter for profit. The Animal Welfare Act, passed in 1966 and enforced by
the USDA, "regulates the care and treatment of warm-blooded animals, except
those (such as farm animals) that are used for food, fiber, or other
agricultural purposes" [emphasis added]. Coldblooded animals, such as snakes
and alligators, are also exempt from the act's protection.
the arbitrary distinctions we make for who deserves safety, for who deserves
to live. As a species, we have long drawn hard distinctions between races,
genders, classes, and other perceived boundaries within humanity. With time,
this hierarchical structure has proved to be arbitrary, abusive, and unjust.
How, then, are the distinctions between the human animal and other feeling,
sentient animals any more valid, any less arbitrary? Are not they simply the
unjust hierarchy of our present day?
The apparent gulf we place
between the slaughterhouse and the Holocaust can also be seen as a forced
distinction. In his book Eternal Treblinka, Holocaust scholar Dr. Charles
Patterson draws connections between our treatment of animals and the
Holocaust. He speaks with Holocaust survivors, who tell how their experience
of suffering drove them to animal activism.
In the four months of
planning for my own branding, I was faced with many challenges. The event
was originally supposed to take place in front of the Old Capitol building
in downtown Iowa City, now owned by the University of Iowa. Once contacted
by the press, the University pulled the permit I had secured in the previous
months, stating my event violated their policy against "bodily harm."
Viewer caution: Scenes in this video may be disturbing.
had multiple participants back out of the project altogether. The original
individual on board to film the event emailed me one morning saying he was
uncomfortable being a part of something during which I would be injured and
suffer, and he could not participate any further. There were also legal and
real medical concerns that frightened people. In Iowa winter weather, there
is always risk of hypothermia and frostbite. And, in all reality, I would be
receiving a first-degree burn.
My response to this apprehension and
disapproval was, "That is exactly what this event is about!" All the fear
and concern for me, for ourselves, for the legal aspects and the possible
outrage the event would cause, it was all for an act that is done to
millions of animals every day. Why is it so objectionable against the human
animal but not them? Their capacity to emote is no less than ours. Does a
steer awaiting slaughter not smell the blood and fear of those before him?
Does a mother cow not cry out when her child is taken from her moments after
birth? Does a baby chick not feel pain as her beak is cut off without
anesthesia? Or a young pig as he is castrated while fully conscious? We
cannot hear their cries and see their eyes fill with terror and say they are
separate from us. Fear is Fear. Blood is Blood. Suffering is Suffering.
I think we should all feel how those who declined to participate and the
University officials who pulled my permit felt about this event. Only we
should extend this feeling to all the beings who are subjected to this and
more every day. What I went through is not even close to a fraction of the
horrors the animals experience. I don't see a distinction between them and
myself, save for one crucial difference: I have a choice. I get to go home.
I get to live.
Emily Moran Barwick
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)