Whether in a cramped cage or in a vast ocean, animals deserve more than selective morality.
Whales seem to be among the small assemblage of non-human species that merit compassion in the U.N.’s politics. After over 1,000 years of being hunted, whales in the South Pacific are now safe from Japanese harpoons — at least for the moment. Japan agreed to call off its hunt in Antarctica for the 2014-15 season after a ruling made by the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) last month banned killing whales under the pretense of doing “research.”
With only six of its 16 members coming from Asia or Africa, the ICJ is predominantly run by citizens of western nations. The U.S. in particular has a history of condemning whale hunting. In 1946, the International Whaling Commision (IWC) was signed into effect in Washington, D.C. This 88-country commission was charged with the conservation and management of whales — the U.S. was responsible for processing the documents that ratified the commission.
Congress also passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, which prohibited the injury, hunting or killing of all marine mammals and made it illegal to import any marine mammals or marine mammal products. More recently, in 2010, the U.S. led an effort within the IWC to make a deal that attempted to control illegal whaling in Norway, Iceland and Japan.
Although Japan’s whaling practices violate international law, it is hypocritical of the governments of western countries to stand up for whales while they give feeble efforts at most to improve the treatment of livestock animals in their own countries.
While whales killed by Japanese whaling ships live their lives in open waters, over 99 percent of farm animals in the U.S. are raised on factory farms, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) website. Factory farms pack animals into spaces so tight that most can barely move. Confined to such oppressive conditions, livestock animals experience severe physical and mental distress, according to ASPCA.
In recent decades, the U.S. made scattered efforts to remedy these cruel realities. Congress passed the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act in 1958, and amended it in 1978 and 2002. The act dictates that all packers selling to the U.S. government are to provide anesthetization or instant stunning by mechanical or electrical means prior to the killing of livestock. Despite this, factory farms still employ unnecessarily ruthless methods of torturing animals before their slaughter.
Although cows, along with 80 percent of other livestock animals, are protected under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, practices such as hanging cows upside-down, shocking them into paralysis or cutting their throats and drowning them in hot water remain common in slaughterhouses today, according to the U.S. Humane Society’s website.
In addition to these violations, poultry are excluded from protection under the act. Many chickens’ beaks are cut or burnt off with a mechanical blade, an electric current or an infrared laser. This is done to prevent fighting and cannibalism among stressed chickens in overpacked cages.
These are only a few examples of the cruel, inhumane acts nearly ubiquitous in the U.S. food industry. Just like any living being, livestock animals have a right to humane living conditions, complete with enough space to live comfortably in a sanitary, safe environment. They are sentient beings, capable of feeling pain and neglect, and deserve to be treated with compassion and respect.
State and federal officials need to rethink their double standard for whales and livestock animals. While the ban on whaling forwards a larger movement toward global progress in terms of animal rights, it’s important we don’t leave livestock animals locked in their cages while the rest of us swim toward the future.