The debate over animal welfare is misguided. Where human need clashes with animal rights, humans must take precedence.
By Ian Dunt
This week MEPs in the European parliament voted to allow the
continued slaughter of animals under Muslim and Jewish practises –
called halal and shechita respectively.
There is an animal welfare argument in all this. Religious
commentators say the more traditional techniques used by their
respective faith are actually more humane than the mass-production
methods used across Britain. Animal rights activists cite the lack of a
stun gun in the process, which instantly makes the animal unconscious
Both these stances leave me distinctly unmoved. I remain
entirely indifferent to the suffering of animals as a political issue.
That’s not to advocate cruelty. I would, of course, like all animals to
be killed as humanely as scientifically possible. They should never
undergo any further suffering than that necessary to support human
needs. But when it comes to weighing animal rights and human needs,
there’s no contest.
There is a certain cruelty in many animal rights activists –
and their sympathisers – who value animal life to the point where they,
consciously or subconsciously, rate it over humans. In a world with so
much human suffering – where people starve to death in what’s still,
laughably, called the ‘developing’ world, where children die because
the only hospitals they have do not have the materials necessary to
treat them – I find it staggering that anyone could dedicate their
efforts to animals.
They do so out of sentimentality. Animals don’t hurt our
feelings. They do not kill their own species, apart from on the rare
occasions when two males clash in a manner which results in the death
of the competitor. In other words, when they do kill each other, it is
not the death which motivates them, but mating. They certainly don’t
commit genocide or inflict war.
But this is not because they are somehow better than us. It’s
because animals behave only according to their instinct. They do not
have the capacity for abstract thought. They have no concept of ideas,
or philosophy. From a human point of view, which is the only point of
view we can possibly have, they are less important than humans. That
seems a childish and imbecilic statement, but it is, unfortunately, one
that needs saying. Many animal rights activists and ordinary members of
the public seem to have forgotten it.
In the west, we have sentimentalised animals. The same is not
true in the rest of the world, of course, where life still carries with
it the necessity of survival. There, the concept of having a pet is
ludicrous. Animals are there to help humans survive, either through
food, or labour, or material.
In the west, free from such concerns, we have idealised and
infantilised animals. We obsess over our cat’s cuteness and forget the
manner in which we once saw it toy with a mouse before it killed it. It
was not being cruel, any more than it is capable of being amiable.
Cruelty has no meaning for animals. They act merely according to their
The debate over animal testing shows us how far many people
have fallen in their priorities. Many are now willing to countenance
mass human suffering for the sake of animals. Try to imagine the amount
of suffering Alzheimer’s causes humanity: the loss of someone dear to
you in a manner which destroys their spirit, humiliates them, and rids
you both of the relationship you shared for years. I would merrily see
thousands of animals killed for even a remote chance of ridding
humanity of this disease.
These moral issues, as complex and emotional as they are,
reduce themselves to a simple choice: does the animal’s free will
overrule a human’s free will?
The answer is no; absolutely not. Humans are autonomous beings,
capable of extraordinary kindness and great cruelty. We explore space
and cure diseases, and, yes, we rape and exploit the weak. We create
and appreciate art, and we betray those closest to us for the most
trivial of sensual pleasures. We are complex and disappointing and
unpredictable and sometimes wonderful. Animals have no concept of art,
or betrayal, or selflessness. They act according to their nature.
So the arguments about which method of slaughter is more humane
are entirely irrelevant to me. Muslims and Jews are entitled to
slaughter animals for food in any way they choose. Not because of their
religion, but because of their status as human beings.
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