10 Ways Religion And Superstition Have Led To Animal Cruelty

10 Ways Religion And Superstition Have Led To Animal Cruelty

Jo Rodriguez

 Harming animals is widely considered one of the lowest and cruelest acts any human could do. In some cases, religion and superstition have played pivotal roles in leading humanity to cause great harm to helpless creatures both great and small.

Warning: This list contains graphic photos that may be disturbing to some readers.

10 Goat Sacrifices For Shakti


Photo credit: Arunankapilan
Shaktism is a sect of Hinduism that focuses on the worship of the Hindu Divine Mother along with various consorts of Shiva and Vishnu. One of these forms is the goddess Kali, consort of Shiva. The goddess is known to favor animal sacrifices—goats in particular. Killing a goat in her name is believed to relieve one of negative emotions such as fear, anger, and jealousy.

One notable example is in India’s Kamakhya Temple, a popular tourist destination. There, goats and pigeons are ritualistically sacrificed in front of foreign onlookers.

The act of animal sacrifice has been in existence for centuries, and over the years many different authorities have tried to put a stop to it with varying degrees of success. For instance, the high court in Orissa imposed a ban on animal sacrifice, yet a few districts in the province still manage to contravene the order.


9 Kosher Killings That Aren’t Kosher At All


Photo credit: Zalmen

Kosher food adheres to strict guidelines based on Jewish tradition. Bulls, cows, sheep, and other livestock must be humanely slaughtered by a shohet—a butcher certified by a rabbi or Jewish court to kill animals for food as prescribed by Jewish law. The shohet performs a deep slice on the throat of the animal which renders it instantaneously unconscious. A quick and painless death occurs mere moments later.

Many countries have laws requiring that animals be stunned or sedated prior to being slaughtered, but an exemption is often granted based on religious practices such as halal (the Muslim practice). However, in countries such as Sweden and Denmark, the animal must be stunned regardless of any contradicting beliefs.

The problem comes when so-called kosher killings aren’t kosher in the least. In the United States, PETA discovered in both 2004 and 2007 that some kosher slaughterhouses in Iowa and Nebraska were violating both federal and kosher law by murdering animals that were fully conscious. Workers would dig into their throats with a hook to speed up the bleeding process. Some of the cows were even seen attempting to stand up as their blood flowed freely.

8 Killing Owls Over Superstitious Fear


There are many superstitious beliefs associated with owls. Romans believed that owls were “suspicious” due to their nocturnal activities, and they felt that the creatures foretold death—as in the cases of Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, and Marcus Agrippa. Owls were actually burned during festivals and their ashes scattered in the Tiber River.

As centuries passed, old beliefs gave way to new ones, such as how an owl hooting or screeching meant the death of a newborn. Owls were also associated with witches and ghosts—an owl nesting in a house meant it was haunted. Similarly, dreaming of an owl meant you would soon encounter an accident, while major misfortune would befall you if you encountered an owl during daytime. Such beliefs have led to the sacrificial killings (such as at the Indian Diwali festival, for example), hunting, and illicit trading of these unfortunate creatures.

7 Black Dog Syndrome


Photo credit: KCR

For centuries, various religious and superstitions have hounded darker-colored animals. For instance, during the early days of Christianity, a large black dog called the grim was believed to frequent graveyards. A certain grim called the “Black Dog of Newgate” was said to go near the window of sick people, indicating they were about to die.

It was also once believed that vampires took the form of black dogs. Eastern European lore speaks of how these beasts were seen roaming the countryside right after livestock had been attacked. This led many people to believe these dogs were a malevolent force and were behind the attacks. These tales also found themselves ingrained in North American culture, oftentimes called “hellhounds.” More recently, tales of the ill portents brought by the grim became famous once again in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

All of this results in what animal shelter workers and activists call “Black Dog Syndrome.” Hundreds of years of behavioral conditioning have led humans to see dark-furred canines as less adoptable, less friendly, and more intimidating. Compared to lighter-colored pets, pet shops find black dogs harder to sell. In animal shelters, they are often the last to find a home, meaning they either live their entire life in a kennel or they become the first to be euthanized.

6 Eating Dogs To Cure What Ails You


The Igorot, an indigenous people from the northern mountains of the Philippines, believe that dogs are spiritual guardians with mystical characteristics. Dog’s teeth are said to protect from snake bites and even lightning. These teeth, imbued with magical properties, are typically worn as a necklace or charm. Similarly, Igorots wear dog tattoos in order to invoke the canines’ agility and power.

In addition, Igorots occasionally eat dog meat during their healing rituals. This is done very rarely, though, and is reserved only for the most special occasions. Unfortunately, the tribe is not known for that, thanks to their participation in the 1904 World’s Fair held in St. Louis, Missouri. The Philippines was under American rule at the time, and the organizers of the Fair brought in around 1,100 Filipinos in order to parade them around for awestruck American fairgoers.

Despite the eating of dog meat being a very rare practice of theirs, the Fair wanted to sell the Igorots as a “savage” tribe with a voracious appetite for pooch. The tribe went along with it because while their beliefs are strong, the allure of money was even stronger. The city provided them an “ample” supply of 20 dogs per week to butcher and eat onstage. Later on, this number grew exponentially due to the popularity of the spectacle. The poaching of dogs in the vicinity of the Fair became so rampant that residents were actually told to leave their dogs at home lest the worst happen.


5 Endangering The Aye-Aye Because Of Their “Evil” Finger


Photo credit: Getty Images

The aye-aye—a tiny creature found in Madagascar—is a harmless mammal that the people of Madagascar have rendered endangered. This is almost entirely due to one thing: its long middle finger. This is an evolutionary tool used to snatch insects inside tree bark and branches, but superstitious and paranoid natives don’t see it that way. The Malagasy people believe that the aye-aye pointing its middle finger toward a human means certain doom. They believe these creatures will crawl into their homes at night and use those long, pointy fingers to stab them in the heart.

What better way to stop that from happening than with preemptive aye-aye murder? If a Malagasy native sees an aye-aye coming toward them—which is very likely to happen as the animal is friendly and curious by nature—they’re very likely to greet the creature with a bullet or two, dropping them dead on the spot. While the aye-aye probably doesn’t use its middle finger to communicate its displeasure toward humans, it should probably start doing so.

4 Hunting The Thylacine Because It Might Be Evil


The thylacine has been extinct since the 1930s thanks to both the changing environment brought about by European settlers and people’s crazy superstitions. While the thylacine was certainly an apex predator, there’s no denying that settlers made some very wild and exaggerated assumptions about them.

As myths of vampires and werewolves permeated in campfires and lodges, an unnatural evil became associated with the thylacine. The creatures were often associated with mysterious deaths in livestock such as sheep and cattle, due to their powerful jaws that could crush bone and muscle. In addition, a photograph from the 1920s depicted the creature with a chicken in its mouth. This led many to believe that thylacines were vicious poultry thieves, and the the government quickly offered a £1 bounty for every thylacine killed.

A children’s encyclopedia published during the 1940s told the younger generation how these beasts—described as “a sort of nightmare wolf“—regularly engaged in “blood-feeding” frenzies where they would hunt their prey to drink their blood rather than for meaty nourishment. This erroneous belief maintained its popularity until well into the 1980s.

In 2011, a study conducted by the University of New South Wales concluded that these accusations and beliefs were unfounded—the jaws of the thylacine were not nearly as strong as widely believed by early settlers. In fact, they were probably not even strong enough to snare sheep in the first place.

3 Hanging A Bull To Bring Forth A Year Of Peace


Photo credit: CNS/Tan Kaixing

Travel websites in China freely mention the Naoyu festival—a religious gathering held every June 2 of the Chinese lunar calendar. It’s a celebration of various ethnic groups such as the Dong, Yao, and Miao. Like with most ceremonies, the Naoyu features dancing, singing, and traditional folk gatherings. Bullfighting also figures prominently.

However, something far more dastardly occurs there that is rarely advertised to tourists. The locals begin the day innocently enough by catching fish and offering prayers. This day culminates, however, with brutal animal murder. They grab one of the bulls, tie a noose around its neck, and hang the struggling animal until it dies. This slow and painful death is believed to bring about a peaceful year and a prosperous harvest for the community.

2 Brutally Killing Bear Cubs So They Can Join The Spirit World


Brown bears are revered by the Ainu people of Japan to the point that they regard the cuddly creatures as gods. The Ainu also believe that since gods dwell in the spirit world, that is where the bears ought to be sent.

The Iomante ceremony, therefore, is loosely translated as “sending off divine beings to another world.” The Ainu begin the process by grabbing a bear cub from the wild. If the mother is found anywhere near her baby, she is killed immediately so as to not disrupt the process. The cub is then brought back to the village and nursed to full health. If the cub is especially young, the women of the village will help it grow by breastfeeding it.

Around a year or two later, preparations for the grisly festivities truly begin. The creature is taken out of the holding cage and tied down in the center of the village. The villagers begin shooting it with blunted arrows, then move on to deadlier ones. If the bear is still alive after all this, the natives will either crush its head with a huge log or simply strangle it to death. The creature’s brain, tongue, and eyeballs are then removed and the skull is filled with flowers.

The neighboring Nivkh people—or Gilyaks—from Sakhalin Island also have a similar ceremony. A cub is nursed to full health and then led out for execution. The chief—who has known it for all its life—speaks to the cub, his reassuring words calming the beast. It is then shot with an arrow through the heart. Once the deed is done, the bear’s skin is removed and its meat consumed.

1 Sacrificing Hundreds Of Thousands Of Animals To A Hindu Goddess


Photo credit: Susil Shah

Few animal sacrifices come close to the extremes of the Gadhimai festival held in Nepal. Every five years, millions flock to the holy temple in Bariyapur to appease Gadhimai, the Hindu goddess of power. Up to 400,000 animals are slaughtered in just a span of two days. Part of this sacrificial herd are 40,000 buffalo though they aren’t considered sacred since they’re associated with Yama Raja, the Hindu god of death and retribution.

Naturally, livestock were part of the slaughter, but some adherents simply brought along any animal they could find—such as rats, snakes, and pigeons—and killed them in front of the temple. It’s also worth noting that this is not just a religious practice but a commercial one as well, since the by-products of the sacrificed creatures—bones, meat, and hides—are sold off to various companies for their uses.

Despite massive protests, the Nepalese government has thus far remained non-committal about this issue, citing that it will not interfere in a centuries-old tradition. Critics and protesters have thus pleaded with the devotees to stop the ritual killing of animals and to consider sacrificing something else instead, like fruit.

We Are All Killers

We Are All Killers

Posted by thephotosophy


So desperately is modern, civilized man trying to conceal the fact that killing is an everyday occurrence. Without intentional, purpose-driven and rationalized everyday killing of living beings, there would be no life as we know it – at least in some domains. We kill for food, but we also kill for fun. What is hunting than killing for fun? Some may call it a sport, or justify it by other means (animal control), but it essentially is nothing more than organized and intentional killing.

Killing for food is not much different. Here the western culture vigorously tries to escape from the awareness that food processing in most cases involves a systematic slaughter of fellow creatures. Food commercials and related depictions of food processing may try to embellish the reality by diverting the perception toward end products devoid of their bloody past, but preparation of meat for consumption is in reality a ruthless bloodbath where compassion retreats in the face of mechanized rationality.

Why is the modern western human so afraid of coming to terms with the (presumably) justified killing that engulfs its culture? Why does he refrain to look in the mirror while slaughtering a pig to make sausages? What is so disturbing in a bloody image of a butcher, with an axe dripping blood from a recently slaughtered creature?

Might he be not simply disgusted of blood – which he enjoys as food – as much as afraid of compassion that could spring from realizing that so many creatures are being sacrificed for his pleasure and comfort? Might he simply be frightened by the possibility of frailty – because compassion is frailty, unlike cold, rationalized and purposeful homo faber that screams confidence, control and productivity?

Not all modern human is like that. Walk into a Chinese fish store and they will let you pick a lobster (or a trout) to smash with a hammer and wrap up for your pleasure. Walk into a Balkan meat store and you will see skinned young lambs hanging on the walls, blood dripping from their mouths, awaiting your pick of their most delicious body part. These guys don’t seem afraid to accept the reality of death, inflicted by their bloody hands on creatures of the world – sacrificial victims of our habits and tastes. But, where is the compassion? Does the fearless butcher who slaughters while winking to his image in the mirror have compassion for the victim?

Enchanted with the exoticism of non-rationalized human, many would think so. But, compassion for the killing we do for food or animal control is not to be looked for in the non- or pre-rationalized cultures, where mass production has not yet replaced the living experience of ending a creature’s life. It can only come from the future, from the enlightened understanding that rationality is just another step in the perfection of human conduct, on the everlasting path of our coming to terms with meaningless and arbitrary existence

Religious slaughter: Halal, Kosher; Only Deference to Religions Makes These Inhumane Practises Legal

Religious slaughter: Halal, Kosher; only deference to religions makes these inhumane practises legal.

Under EU law animals must be stunned before they can be slaughtered. This is one part of a noble humane effort to reduce animal suffering even when they are our food source. However there is a loophole to this empathetic law.

The EU allows “derogation from stunning in case of religious slaughter taking place in slaughterhouses”

So if you believe a cosmic deity wills it, rules on preventing animal cruelty do not apply to you. The notably irreligious Sweden is the only country in the EU with an outright ban on religious slaughter.

Halal slaughter poster

Halal slaughter poster
If not for religion, would this be allowed?

There is no other exemption, not for a moral belief or political beliefs; only religious faith. Only a belief system that you believe to be supported by divine will is a good enough reason to inflict animal cruelty.

The human race has a remarkable ability for empathy and compassion; extending past other human beings to members of different species. Even to our food sources. We may have to kill and eat them to survive but we do not wish to see unnecessary suffering in the process.

As humanity has advanced, our sympathy and empathy towards animals has increased. We have found new ways to reduce suffering and introduced laws and regulations to enforce this good practice. The human race by and large has come to a consensus on this issue.



Our compassion goes beyond our own species.

Only religions, with their practices and morals from the infancy of our species, stick rigidly to backward methods that create unnecessary suffering. As ever the trouble with fundamentally sticking to practices in ancient books; they do not keep up with the moral advances of mankind. The production of Halal and Kosher meat, involving the cutting of the animal’s throat whilst it is still conscious, does not conform to the standards of the 21st century but is allowed to appease the Islamic and Jewish communities.

Only religious groups have the influence and power to exempt themselves from legislation like this, putting fear into the minds of legislators. This has to end; there must be a common law for all, for the good of mankind. As well as every other species on this planet

Sadistic Jewish Ritual Slaughter | Horrendous Animal Cruelty

Animal Cruelty At Israel’s Premier Glatt Kosher Slaughterhouse Causes International Outcry

Cattle prod use at Tnuva's Adom Adom slaughterhouse 12-2012

Tnuva’s Beit She’an slaughterhouse was caught in a PETA-style undercover hidden camera investigation willfully abusing and torturing animals. Because many of those those animals came from Australia and their handling and slaughter is governed by international agreements, the Government of Australia has launched an investigation into what it calls shoking animal cruelty. The Israeli governemt has also opened an investigation, as has Israeli police.

Cattle prod use at Tnuva's Adom Adom slaughterhouse 12-2012

Animal Cruelty At Israel’s Premier Glatt Kosher Slaughterhouse Causes International Outcry Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com

Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry and the Australia’s Department of Agriculture have reportedly opened investigations against Israel’s giant food conglomerate Tnuva after animal abuse at one of the corporation’s glatt kosher slaughterhouses was exposed on Israeli national television.

Channel 2’s investigative program Kolbotek’s exposé was shown last week. Ronen Bar, an animal rights activist posing as a worker at the Adom-Adom slaughterhouse in Beit She’an, videoed employees using stun guns on the genitals and eyes of cattle, and a manager standing by and watching as a calf was dragged across the ground by a forklift.

Employees also reportedly told Bar that Adom-Adom’s management ordered employees to shock cattle in the rear end to move them to the slaughterhouse.

Following the show, there were reportedly widespread calls on social media for a boycott of not only Adom Adom meat products, but of Tnuva’s large line of dairy products, as well, and Beit She’an police reportedly opened a criminal investigation into the abuse.

Because most of the abused cattle had been shipped in from Australia, the Australian Department of Agriculture opened an investigation. Animal rights groups in Australia, including the Royal Society for Protection from Cruelty to Animals and Animals Australia, are calling for a ban on cattle exports to Israel. Meanwhile, on Monday, which was International Animal Rights Day, hundreds of protesters demonstrated in Tel Aviv against Tnuva and demanded the resignation of its CEO.

The day before that protest Israel’s Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan called for a criminal investigation into the allegations exposed by the video.

“There is no reason for animals to endure such horrible abuse,” Erdan said.

This is not the first time animal abuse at Adom-Adom have been exposed. In September 2011, the activist group Anonymous for Animal Rights released a report that documented many similar abuses at Adom-Adom’s Beit She’an  slaughterhouse. But the report was widely ignored.

Adom-Adom’s CEO Erez Wolf issued a statement saying that “everything we saw [in the Kolbotek video footage] is completely unacceptable to us.”

Wolf announced that he had accepted the resignation of the manager of his slaughterhouse. He also said he had fired all of the employees who had taken part in the abusive practices.

Wolf also had cameras installed in the pens, so he can personally ensure that the animals are not being abused in the future.

“We will continue to be very strict about quality, not only in terms of our excellent products, but also in terms of prevention of cruelty to animals. The extreme examples that we have seen here will never happen again,” Wolf said.

Moving animals from outdoor pens or barns through chutes to the slaughter floor can be done smoothly and without use of electric cattle prods and other painful methods.
Dr. Temple Grandin, the foremost animal welfare and animal behavior expert in the world, has designed chutes and other equipment that make this possible by eliminating the aspects of poor design that cause animals to balk.

Grandin also consults with slaughterhouses and adapts their existing chutes and pens.
Many of the largest slaughterhouses in the US and Canada use Grandin’s methods, not only because they are better for the animals, but because calm, compliant animals are faster and easier to slaughter and, because of reduced stress hormones and related physiological issues, their meat is higher quality.

Adom-Adom does not appear to be using Grandin’s equipment or methods.

Kosher slaughterhouses in Israel, South America, Europe and the United States have all been caught up in major animal abuse and inhumane slaughter scandals over the past eight years.

In the most notorious case, Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa, owned by Chabad’s Rubashkin family, cattle were mistreated before slaughter, put in a poorly maintained, poorly operated rotating slaughter pen and flipped on their backs. They were then – often after an uncomfortable and terrifying delay – slaughtered with a cut that was too shallow to quickly kill the animal.

But the horror did not end there.

As the animals lay on their backs chocking in their own blood, an untrained plant worker used a meat hook and and a hacking knife to pull out their tracheas and hack at their blood vessels. The pen was then rotated to return the animals to the upright position, and they were dumped down a short chute onto a blood-soaked concrete floor.

But many of the animals were not dead or unconscious. Instead, grievously wounded, they struggled to right themselves and get up. Some managed to do so and tried to run away, their esophagus dangling from their open throat wounds.

Instead of condemning this barbarity, Orthodox and haredi rabbis – including Israel’s chief rabbis – with almost 100% public uniformity endorsed the cruelty, making it clear that the meat Agriprocessors produced was 100% kosher.

In the years after the Agriprocessors abuses were made public, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate promised to stop other cruel practices at South American slaughterhouses that export to Israel and at Israeli slaughterhouses. But those changes were, for the most part, never made.

[Hat Tip: Seymour.]

Are Factory Farming’s Days Numbered?

Good News For Animal Lovers: Factory Farming’s Days May Be Numbered

Two major grocery chains are ditching factory farmed meat — will the changes cause a ripple effect?


Photo Credit: © koko-tewan/ Shutterstock.com

This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

In one of history’s most stunning victories for humane farming, Australia’s largest supermarket chain, Coles, will as of January 1 stop selling company branded pork and eggs from animals kept in factory farms. As an immediate result, 34,000 mother pigs will no longer be kept in stalls for long periods of their lives, and 350,000 hens will be freed from cages.

Not to be outdone, the nation’s other dominant supermarket chain, Woolworths, has already begun phasing out factory farmed animal products. In fact all of Woolworth’s house brand eggs are now cage-free, and by mid-2013 all of their pork will come from farmers who operate stall-free farms.

Coles and Woolworths together account for a dominant 80 percent of all supermarket sales in Australia.

The move to open up the cages was fueled by “consumer sentiment,” and it has been synchronous with amajor campaign against factory farming of animals led by Animals Australia. The campaign features a TV ad, titled “When Pigs Fly,” in which an adorable piglet tells the story of animals sentenced to life in cramped cages, and then flies to freedom.

Meanwhile, in the United States, egg factory farms cram more than 90 percent of the country’s 280 million egg-laying hens into barren cages so small the birds can’t even spread their wings. Each bird spends her entire life given less space than a sheet of paper. And in a reality that does not please fans of Wilber or Babe, between 60 to 70 percent of the more than five million breeding pigs in the United States are kept in crates too small for them to so much as turn around.

There are laws against cruelty to animals in the United States, but most states specifically exempt animals destined for human consumption. The result is that the animal agriculture industry routinely does things to animals that, if you did them to a dog or a cat, would get you put in jail.

Gene Baur, president of Farm Sanctuary, explains: “Most of the anti-cruelty laws exempt farm animals as long as the practices are considered to be normal by the agriculture industry. What has happened is that bad has become normal, and no matter how cruel it is, normal is legal.”

But here, too, change is coming. Undercover investigations have led to a $497 million judgment against the now defunct Hallmark Meat Packing company, and to the recent temporary shutdown of Central Valley Meat Company over what federal investigators termed “egregious, inhumane handling and treatment of livestock.” California and Michigan have passed laws that will phase in a ban on battery cages for hens, andnine U.S. states have joined the entire European Union in heading towards a ban on confining pigs in gestation crates.

Worried that consumers are starting to find out the truth about treatment of modern farm animals and will demand further changes, industry leaders are pushing for “ag gag” laws that would hide factory farming and slaughterhouse abuses from public scrutiny. Recently passed laws in Iowa and Utah threaten jail time for anyone working undercover and taking pictures or video of animals in factory farms without permission.

What don’t they want us to know? What are they trying to hide? What would happen if the veil was lifted and we saw the level of cruelty that has become the norm in U.S. industrial meat production?

poll conducted by Lake Research partners found that 94 percent of Americans agree that animals raised for food on farms deserve to be free from abuse and cruelty, and that 71 percent of Americans support undercover investigative efforts by animal welfare organizations to expose animal abuse on industrial farms.

Most farmers don’t try to be cruel to animals, but they do worry about how to cut costs. And so long as consumers are kept in the dark about the real source of their food, farm owners have no economic incentive to do more than the minimum necessary to appease regulatory authorities.

Want to take action? Join the Food Revolution Network, an online community dedicated to healthy, sustainable, humane and delicious food for all.

Or join the Humane Society’s campaign for farm animal protection, or Farm Sanctuary’s work for animal welfare legislation. Or if you want to save 100 animals per year, you can sign up for PETA’s free veg starter kit.

Eat, Pray, Kill | The Basic Brutality of Eating

Eat, Pray, Kill: The Basic Brutality of Eating

By Beatrice Marovich

“Bloody beetroots”: image courtesy flickr user kudla, via a Creative Commons license

Beatrice Marovich

[Beatrice is a PhD candidate in the Graduate Division of Religion at Drew University in Madison, NJ. She also works as a writer, editor, and communications consultant, specializing in ideas at the crowded intersection of theology, philosophy, faith and public/political life in North America.]

Some humans are deeply passionate about their meat. They love it, they gnash their teeth for it. In her 2006 spiritual travelogue Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert confessed a kind of affinity with the sensual Tuscan culture of meat. Shop windows in the Italian town, she writes, are loaded with sausages “stuffed like ladies’ legs into provocative stockings” or the “lusty buttocks” of ham. The net effect, she suggests, is the emanation of a “you know you want it” kind of sensuality. Make no mistake. Meat—the flesh of non-human animals—is a force of desire in human life.

But is there an ethical argument in favor of flesh consumption? That is, can a meat-eating human find solid moral ground for her more carnivorous appetites? Is there a soul-cure for the stomachache that comes from eating the body of another sentient creature? Are these questions that the vast storehouses of religious traditions can help us navigate?

In a culture where plates are piled high with the spoils of profligate factory farming, it would seem that the growing surge of vegans and vegetarians have claim to the moral high ground. One might even make the argument that religious vegetarianism is one of the few things that makes modern religions look good. But not everyone is satisfied with this solution. “Ethically speaking, vegetables get all the glory,” Ariel Kaminer lamented in the New York Times, playing the role of the paper’s esteemed Ethicist. And so, in an attempt to buck this trend the paper launched an essay contest in March of this year: in search of the ethical argument for meat.

Essays were judged by a star-studded panel that included vocal vegetarians like Peter Singer and Jonathan Safran Foer as well as more cautiously omnivorous foodies such as Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman. Controversy ensued over the fact that the panel was comprised entirely of men. But, gender issues be damned, results were published in late April. Six essays made the cut. The final stage was to give Times readers four days to vote on their personal favorite. Almost 40 percent of voters appeared to favor the ethical argument in favor of in vitro meat. “Aside from accidental roadkill or the fish washed up dead on the shore, it is perhaps the only ethical meat,” essayist Ingrid Newkirk baldly proffered.

If Peas Can Talk…

The argument that stirred me most, however, was one of the lower-scoring essays—earning a mere 10 percent of voter approval. Interestingly, it wasn’t really an argument in favor of meat at all, so much as it was an attempt to dramatize the moral stakes of the practice.

“We would be foolish to deny that there are strong moral considerations against eating meat,” philosophy professor Bob Fischer begins. Eating meat is clearly, from an ethical perspective, “wrong” on several counts. But morality is an ideal, he notes, something we aim for, and fall short of. This makes the moral world “tragic,” as he puts it. Moral work is a tragedy, played out on a cosmic stage. Rather than wallow in remorse, he sees this as reason to be suspicious of “any proposal that would steer us through these complexities too quickly.”

When it comes to the consumption of meat, in other words, our human hands have long been dirty. This isn’t a discouragement to stop striving for the good. But a moral proposal that promises to wash our filthy fingers spotlessly clean—in seconds flat—is suspect. Because they will still be dirty. The pressing moral question, of meat, becomes: given that human hands are obviously soiled, what can be done with these polluted tools?

The easy answer, most often, is: go vegetarian. If it feels wrong to eat meat, then stop eating it. Why waste time, really? Just go vegan. Start cleaning your hands by refusing to eat your fellow creatures. The ethical argument for meat, in other words, is an impossibility. Ending flesh consumption is one step in right direction, toward a kinder future. Some might argue, however, that the argument from empathy is a slippery slope argument. Vegetarians will surely protest. But philosopher Michael Marder, writing recently for the Times, points to research on pea plant communication as evidence of a kind of plant subjectivity. The title of his column begs the incendiary question: “If peas can talk, should we eat them?”

There are, perhaps, some practitioners of the Jain tradition who would give a resounding “no.” Strict ascetic practices in Jainism disavow not only the consumption of meat, but the practice of farming—because of the damage that agricultural tools to do the earth. The consumption of root vegetables may be prohibited (as you would be yanking the vegetable to its death), as well as the consumption of a living pea shoot, which can (as Marder suggests) talk.

These practices find their basis in ahimsa—the Sanskrit term that describes a posture of nonviolence toward all living creatures. The power of ahimsa can be genealogically traced into the vegetarian strains and variants of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. Is it when we turn to the wisdom of religious traditions that we finally find the spiritual purity we’re looking for? The sort that can clean our dirty hands from the inside out, starting with our nasty and brutish souls?

A Screaming Silence

My own thinking around religion and animals, particularly around the conundrum of eating them, was complexified at a recent conference, put on by the Graduate Student’s Association in Columbia’s Religion Department. The consumption of animal flesh was not the primary subject matter of “Pray, Eat, Kill: Relating to Animals Across Religious Traditions,” but it was perhaps the most absorbing. It was also the subject of Wendy Doniger’s keynote address. The legendary scholar of myth and religion dipped back into ancient text, citing myriad strange injunctions regarding the consumption of food in The Laws of Manu. What she finds, in these codes, is not only an attempt to deal with the old, and apparently always agonizing, moral pain of eating animal flesh. She also spoke of references, in these ancient texts, to the “screaming silence” of vegetables.

Doniger finds, in other words, a long history of reflection on the basic brutality of eating, rooted in a reflection on this concept of ahimsa. But, interestingly, what she finds is that this sympathy and compassion for animals did not always lead to the condemnation of eating animal flesh.

The fact is, religious ethics are practices that are crafted in conversation with culture and geography. There have been times when the meaning of ahimsa, or practices of animal compassion, have taken a backseat to necessity. Geoff Barstow, for example, spoke of the 18th-century Tibetan Buddhist Jigme Lingpa who displayed an extreme form of compassion for animals (addressing them as his mother). He believed that meat was a poison that bore a heavy karmic burden. But he stopped just sort of commending vegetarianism. Meat was, as Barstow put it, a kind of “necessary evil.” Was this in recognition of the fact that there simply aren’t a lot of vegetables to be had in the mountainous regions of Tibet?

Is the purity (or the arid ethical high ground) we might be aiming for a myth, itself? Is it possible to both consume and remain morally chaste? Doniger suggests that, perhaps, the most common and lasting effect we can see—as reverent humans attempt to deal with the moral ambivalence of eating meat—is that they make lists. They attempt to rationalize this ambivalence, to find a way of controlling its power. The Laws of Manu are filled with long lists of things you can and cannot eat (mushrooms, solitary animals), things you can and cannot do with animals (sacrifice is good, unlawful slaughter is bad).

Such lists are not unique to the Hindu tradition. Indeed, we see both simple and complex dietary regulations in a host of traditions and cultures. Even here in the U.S., we have “secular” regulations that prevent us from eating dogs. Many of us follow our own little personal hodgepodge of injunctions that (we believe) contributes to a more sustainable form of life, or a healthy planet.

In a larger sense, the thicket of little rules and regulations seems absurd. The “real” question, it seems, is whether or not to eat animals at all—whether to have all or nothing, flesh or no flesh. But such universal injunctions seem problematic to me. Human history is littered with smaller lists, smaller injunctions, created in ethical conversation with a particular context.

When we look back at the stages set by the history, via religion, I think we will see this moral drama—the encounter of human and non-human animal—played out in many different ways. In the messy, violent, ambivalence this encounter generates, and the stopgap measures put in place to resolve it, we see thousands of small (often contradictory, often bizarre) solutions. We might read thousands of lists! But this is not a sign of our human failure. Rather, I think we can see it as an encouragement to keep making those small lists.

Morality is a messy business—why should we expect its rules to be singular, or simple?

Slaughterhouse Cruelty Exposed

A steer restrained for stunning just prior to ...
Image via Wikipedia

Slaughterhouse Cruelty Exposed


Australia’s ABC-TV’s Lateline broke a story last night on a slaughterhouse which authorities have shut down after hidden cameras revealed  cruelty to animals. The slaughterhouse in question is the source of  Kosher meat in the Sydney region.

Abattoir used in part for Shechitah Shut Down JWire.com

ABC-TV’s Lateline broke a story last night on an abattoir near Sydney which authorities have shut down after hidden cameras had revealed alleged cruelty to animals. The abattoir in question is the source of Kosher meat in the Sydney region.

Hawkesbury Valley Meat Processors in Wilberforce has been slaughtering for both the Jewish and Muslim communities for some time. The Kashrut Authority’s Rabbi Moshe Gutnick told J-Wire: “We have made immediate contingency plans to maintain the supply of Kosher meat to the community. I understand the abattoir has taken steps to rectify matters and hopes to re-open in the not too distant future.”

The abattoir’s Glen Langley told J-Wire that he would make a statement when in a legal position to do so.
J-Wire understands that a “rat” filmed dashing across the floor of the abattoir was in fact a mechanical shackle used during the processing of the animals.
Rabbi Gutnick added that the exaggerated movements of slaughtered animals is a natural process and not cruel due to oxygen deprivation even if the animal is stunned.

Hawkesbury Valley Meat Processors is not exclusively used for Kosher or Halal killing and the cruelty shown on film related to the treatment of pigs.
The ABC footage and corresponding text can be seen here.

The footage J Wire refers to doesn’t appear to be online. Instead, what you see is a shorter, less graphic version aired the following day that focuses on pig slaughter, so it’s hard to evaluate the actual shechita issues.

That said, the footage we can see shows very bad animal handling along with obscene cruelty.

That J-Wire chose not to link to the footage showing cattle slaughter (or to ask any Humane Slaughter experts about it) means we cannot evaluate Rabbi Gutnick’s claim regarding that slaughter – although the same claims were made by rabbis about Agriprocessors, and those claims were clearly false and were proved false by dozens of large animal biologists, veterenarians and, eventually, the USDA, which found Agriprocessors violated Humane Slaughter law.

And the rat?

You’ll have to take J-Wire’s claim it really was a “mechanical shackle” at face value – or not.

Bestiality Brothels On Rise In Germany

brothels spur call for animal sex ban



Animal sex abuse is on the rise in Germany, with bestiality brothels being set up across the country, according to a state animal protection officer demanding stronger laws to protect mankind’s furry and feathered friends.

Madeleine Martin, the animal protection official for Hessian state government, said the law needed to be changed to make sex abuse of animals – known as zoophilia – a crime.

“It is punishable to distribute animal pornography, but the act itself is not,” she told the Frankfurter Rundschau daily paper on Friday.

“There are even animal brothels in Germany,” she said. Sex with animals was being increasingly seen as a lifestyle choice, and thus more acceptable.

“The abuse seems to be increasingly rapidly, and the internet offers an additional distribution platform,” she said.

She said the justice authorities had found it exceptionally difficult to convict a man from Hesse, who had offered pictures and instructions for animal sex abuse over the internet.

Zoophilia must be completely banned in the reformed animal protection law,” said Martin, referring to the governments plan to rework that section of the law.

Sex with animals was banned until 1969, when the animal protection law was introduced, but failed to include a specific ban on zoophilia, the Frankfurter Rundschau said.

Martin said the current legal situation makes it too difficult for authorities to intervene – an animal has to be shown to have massive injuries before the animal protection laws prescribe action.

The Local/hc

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