January 13, 2005

PETA puzzle

I remembered something I forgot last week -- to link to this post from Meryl Yourish. It's the last bit that interested me -- particularly the email from someone identifying herself as a "peta activist." When I read the email, it seemed unsettling -- the ease with which she compared the murder of a wife and mother to be with -- what exactly?

Obnoxious and morally bankrupt as some of PETA's metaphors are (the one that rightly outraged Meryl is a truly hideous example), there's something else about their mission that bothers me, something less to do with their obnoxiousness than with their stated goals, a contradiction which perhaps they have an answer for, but which I certainly don't.

PETA's faq is fairly clear in insisting that,

People who support animal rights believe that animals are not ours to use for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, or any other purpose and that animals deserve consideration of their best interests regardless of whether they are cute, useful to humans, or endangered and regardless of whether any human cares about them at all ...

According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, in 2002, there were something like 95 million head of cattle, 60 million hogs, 334 million egg laying chickens in the United States. (You can look all this up here.) These animals exist largely because they have economic utility; absent that economic utility, what purpose would they serve? Would anyone bother to feed 334 million hens out of the goodness of their hearts? Or is it more likely that, absent the economic value these animals have, they'd simply cease to exist in anywhere near the numbers they do now? Instead of 60 million hogs, we'd have 16,000 or so. Now, perhaps it is in an individual animal's interest not to be used for milk or meat, but surely it is not in an animal's interest to not be born in the first place?

This is not to say that I'm not all for the humane treatment of farm animals, for government regulations to that effect, and so on. But I still can't see how PETA can determine that it's in the interest of, say, 60 million hogs to become valueless and pass out of existence, leaving behind them a few thousand or hundred offspring.

I imagine, incidentally, that there's nothing particularly orginal about raising this objection to PETA, and I'm fairly certain they must have a snappy answer to it.

Posted by Ideofact at January 13, 2005 09:54 PM

If anyone else has ever asked that question, I haven't seen it.

If the archeologists/historians are to be trusted, animals have been domesticated for millennia, longer than people have lived in cities.

One species, sheep, have nearly zero ability to survive outside of human protection. What would happen to the species if they were left to their own devices?

Posted by: steve h at January 14, 2005 12:01 AM

I have seen this question raised before, and in fact discussed it with somebody in the comments to this post. To me, it has always been the most compelling argument against 100% vegetarianism, though I can see the other person's point that our appetite for meat in the West probably does more harm than good.

I don't know what PETA's answer would be, though.

Posted by: Camassia at January 14, 2005 01:31 PM

Well, like I said, I couldn't imagine nobody had thought of it before.

But I think whatever the response, PETA's description of what animal rights are is meaningless. "[A]nimals deserve consideration of their best interests" is a contentless phrase.

Posted by: Bill at January 14, 2005 03:38 PM

Speaking about animal rights activists, I heard somewhere that some of these people visited a college and told the students to drink alcohol instead of milk. Because milking hurts the cows. Yeah, ummm, so are we sacrificing our health for a pain free life for domestic bovines?

Posted by: Paladin at January 14, 2005 06:18 PM