A recent post over at Casaubon's Book discusses the plight of the male farm animal and, in particular, the humble rooster.
What do I mean by "the problem of husbandry?" What I mean is that generally speaking, in the rearing of domesticated animals, one gender of the animals is more valuable than the other. Often, but not always, females are preferred, because they lay the eggs, give the milk, and can reproduce themselves perfectly well with only a very tiny number of male participants.
Now true, we have a highly similar problem in genetic research which involves breeding laboratory vertebrates (most typically mice) for a desired genotype. Frequently enough some fraction of the bred animals never make it into the papers. A desire to match group sizes means that in the simple Mendellian situation, you have twice as many heterozygous as homozygous offspring. A poorly-surviving genotype may further complicate the picture. As does the array of current multi-gene breeding techniques designed to target a controllable gene expression system to a specific tissue.
Nevertheless I wanted to address the broader points made by Sharon Astyk because they are critical for the well-intentioned, non-extremist person who only leans in the direction of Animal Rights wackaloonery.
Sharon's post discusses the ways in which food consumers and others can pretend to themselves that they are not directly causing the death of animals. Are you familiar with the ovotarian? Or for that matter the lacto-ovotarian? These are the people who eat eggs and milk products "only" meaning they eschew the meat of the animals from which they are deriving sustenance. Perhaps not all, but many of these individuals take pride in not causing the death of animals. Sharon's point is that when you are taking the eggs and milk of female animals, you are causing the death of male animals. Gender-selective breeding has not been perfected, you see.
Sharon also covers the growing trend for urban chicken husbandry. This has been a little bit of a local regulatory issue apparently with an interesting compromise being struck. Urban laws are known to permit hens but not the loudly-crowing, neighbor annoying roosters to be kept in tightly spaced neighborhoods. More dead roosters. Egg hatching school projects? My kids' school has done this- where do the chicks end up? In Sharon Astyk's town apparently at her farm:
My step-mother just asked me if I would take the chicks that are likely to be the outcome of a local school project in incubating eggs. I said I probably would, depending on the breed, but I admit, I'm tempted to ask in exchange to be allowed to come to the kids' class and talk about what happens to the chickens afterwards, because our cognitive disconnect about the future of animals is vast.
I hope she does insist on this. Because this is the critical issue that I see in her post, as does she. Sharon ends her bit with this observation:
What I think is impermissable is unconsciousness. We are not allowed, ethically speaking, not to know that for every hen for our backyard, there was a rooster chick, euthanized and disposed of. We are not allowed, ethically speaking, not to have the ability to put down animals that are suffering, even though we'd rather have no truck with their deaths. We are not allowed to pretend that our diet doesn't leave us with blood on our hands.
My view of the non-extremist, animal-rights sympathizing voices is that they do not do the hard work of following their positions to the conclusion. It is easy to claim that you are a lacto-ovotarian while conveniently ignoring all the dead roosters- wasted dead if you were to wish your eating preferences on everyone else. Luckily there are still plenty of chicken eaters around (who you criticize implicitly if not explictly) to save your ethical soy-bacon. Easy to be a milk drinker and yoghurt eater while conveniently ignoring the dead boy-cows.
If, that is, you are a lazy thinker who takes things up to the point of justifying your own behavior and beliefs...but not so far as to question yourself. It is one thing for personal preference, I really don't care that much about how much of a inconsistent hypocrite anyone might care to be in personal choice. The trouble comes in when you want to apply your beliefs and preferences to everyone else in the form of laws and regulations. Then you have an obligation to do the hard work and follow your views, beliefs and preferences to their end stage. Including the part of the mental work which includes thinking about facts that make you look inconsistent.
This is assuredly applicable to the anti-research viewpoints. A little less direct of course, because medical advances from current research are by definition off in the future. The current benefits derive in some part from animal lives sacrificed in the past (although not exclusively, some tests and treatments require ongoing use of animal lives). This makes it even easier to pretend, like the lacto-ovatarian, that the things you use have no bearing on your anti-animal-research position.
But you are still just pretending. Do the hard work. Carry your views to the logical end.
And ultimately, have the courage of your convictions. Forgo all medical treatments, cosmetics, cleaners and a vast array of other consumer products that depended on animal research or animal-based safety testing. Drop the milk and eggs out of your diet. Only eat vegetable matter that you know has not resulted in the plowing/harrowing of field mice, shooting of pest deer (did I tell you my funny story about an organic farm?) or fertilizing from animal sources. Above all else, commit yourself not to miraculously change your mind when it is you or a family member who gets struck with an easily cured, but lethal if untreated, condition in the prime of life.
Because after all, that is what you are insisting your fellow citizens should suffer based on your theological and poorly formed belief system.
I'll end with a multiple choice poll