Practical Issues > "To Do" Index > Activism

The Canberra Times, the largest paper in Australia's capital city, includes a piece in the Monday, January 9 edition, on the issue of human treatment of other species. I generally summarize long pieces, providing a link to the article for those who wish to read the detail. I am somewhat pleased, however, that I cannot find a link to this piece on the paper's website and must send out the article in full. The piece is already a summary of Professor Mirko Bagaric's paper "No absence of Malice Towards the Gallus - Animal Cruelty the Shame of a Generation in the Environmental and Planning Law Journal Generation (with Keith Akers)." It does not waste words.

Bagaric details some of the cruelty we inflict on other animals, then argues, cogently, for the elevation of their moral standing, via incremental steps, to a point where it is universally considered wrong to consume them. There are those in our movement who argue, also persuasively, that incrementalism interferes with achieving that ultimate goal. They will not agree with all of Bagaric's points. What most in our movement with will agree on, however, is that it is terrific to see this searing indictment of the way we treat members of other species published in a leading newspaper.

The piece opens the door for letters to the editor regarding our relationships with other species. I hope many people will send appreciative notes to the Canberra Times. Few papers print pieces such as this; the Canberra Times should be commended. The paper takes letters at

Canberra Times
January 9, 2006 Monday


The Moral black spot that we have towards animals is so gaping that it will shame us in the eyes of future generations.

That's the message we should take from the Greenpeace activists that are harassing the Japanese whaling fleet as it goes about its brutal task of fulfilling its self-awarded licence quota of killing 935 minke and 10 fin whales this summer. The Japanese don't have a monopoly when it comes to dishing out doses of human savagery towards animals. All countries engage in the practice at obscenely high levels.

The killing of whales is a particularly distressing example of animal cruelty. Whales scream in terror as they are being massacred in a killing process that often lasts for several hours. Unlike humans, they are not blessed with a consciousness shut off valve that kicks in when they are subjected to extreme levels of pain. Their suffering continues as their flesh is repeatedly harpooned and ripped apart.

The rivers of blood that are now filling the Antarctic ocean should jar our moral psyche into overdrive to reassess the manner in which we treat animals.

Looking back on history many of us are bewildered at the barbarity displayed by previous generations towards the interests of certain agents. More enlightened future generations will regard the callous disregard with which we treat animals as on a par with the repugnant ways that our forefathers treated groups such as women and people with dark skin.

We eat millions of animals annually, despite the fact that animal products are not essential (and in some cases are detrimental) to our dietary needs. In the process we often farm and kill animals in cruel ways. We have no qualms about inflicting the cruel death of gentle creatures so that we can salivate on the transient delight of a yummy burger, even though we would salivate no less on a vegetarian meal, properly prepared.

Don't be conned into thinking that we don't inflict suffering on animals in the process. Just go to your local battery hen plant for a visit. There you will notice that within one to 10 days of being hatched, chicks will be debeaked, which involves amputating about half of their beak with a red hot blade or wire. The pain involved is so intense, that some chicks die of shock or injury. Shortly after this they are placed in 50cm x 50cm wire cages with up to four other hens, where they stay for the rest of their lives. They will never experience the ''luxury'' of walking or spreading their wings. Many hens lose all their feathers from being pecked by others and some even die from pecking injuries. All this so that we pay a few cents less for our omelettes. Mercifully, the laying capacity of battery hens reduces quickly and after one or two years most are slaughtered for pet food or flavour concentrates.

We also intentionally inflict pain on animals in scientific experiments that have less than remote chances of success and use their skins to keep us warm and enhance our looks, despite the fact that we have an oversupply of synthetic material which can satisfy these ''needs''.

Rarely is the benefits and burdens scale so grossly distorted. It's time for the carnage to stop.

There is no wriggle room on the animal cruelty front. It is unquestionably morally repugnant. Animals can't speak in ways that we understand. Their intellect is not high and they don't have an awareness of themselves as continuing entities over time. Yet they are entitled to be treated with concern and regard because they possess the most important attribute that qualifies an entity for moral standing: the capacity to feel pain and suffer.

Suffering is suffering, whether experienced by animals or humans. The physiological process is identical.

It is always agonising to endure and often as agonising to observe. That's why few people who witness the excruciating death of a whale would contemplate eating whale flesh and the best advertisement for free range eggs is a visit to a battery hen processing plant.

To remedy this situation we need to be cognisant of the lessons of history. Full moral status is not accorded quickly to repressed agents. Thus, we need to move towards incrementally improving the plight of animals. The first stage of this process involves ceasing to engage in activities that are cruel to animals, unless there is an overwhelming benefit to be obtained from such conduct. This means that it is never permissible to kill animals for food by painful means, given that we do not need animal products to maintain a healthy diet. Cruelty in relation to scientific experimentation should be only permitted where the objective of the research is to advance human or animal health; the potential benefits of the research are significant; the research goals cannot be achieved without animal experimentation and there is a high level of confidence that the research will achieve its stated outcomes.

Once the moral standing of animals has been elevated to a point where it is accepted that it is impermissible to treat them cruelly, the next stage involves a recognition of the fact that it is wrong to kill animals (even using painless techniques), or otherwise mistreat them, for our consumption. Until we reach that level of moral understanding our behaviour towards animals will continue to be the shame of our generation. Mahatma Gandhi correctly noted that: ''the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated''. It's not only the Japanese that stand condemned at this point in history.
Professor Mirko Bagaric is the Head of Deakin Law School. This is a summary of his paper No absence of Malice Towards the Gallus - Animal Cruelty the Shame of a Generation in the Environmental and Planning Law Journal Generation (with Keith Akers).
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