Animals, the WTO, and Public Morality

Last week, a World Trade Organization panel ruled that EU restrictions on the import of seal products are justified under a free trade exception for trade restrictions that are “necessary to protect public morals.”  This is the first time that the WTO has backed a trade restriction grounded on concerns for animal welfare.

At issue in the case was a challenge to EU regulations that generally ban the import and marketing of seal products in the EU, with exceptions to the ban when certain conditions are met (such as when the seal products are derived from hunts conducted by Inuit or indigenous communities, or when the hunts are conducted for marine resource management purposes).

The panel ruled that the EU must alter its application of the exceptions (as it has thus far treated imported and domestic seal products differently), but concluded that the “objective of addressing EU public moral concerns on seal welfare” was a valid ground for imposing trade restrictions.   Thus, if the EU applies the exceptions consistently, the restrictions will be permitted.

One reason that this ruling is significant is that it paves the way for other trade restrictions based on animal welfare concerns.  Read More

30 Pound Turkeys, 30 Million Pounds of Antibiotics

Since 1960, the weight of an average live domesticated turkey has nearly doubled from around 15 to 30 pounds.   And current estimates are that 30 million pounds of antibiotics are used in livestock production per year (which represents 80 percent of the total volume of antibiotics sold in the United States for any purpose).  These two facts are related.

The use of antibiotics in livestock is often not for the purpose of curing disease, but rather for the purpose of growth promotion—a practice that has arisen with the intensification of livestock farming.  Although the mechanism underpinning their action is unclear, it is believed that the administration of antibiotics at non-therapeutic doses suppresses sensitive populations of bacteria in the intestines, helping animals digest their food more efficiently.

This non-therapeutic use of antibiotics continues despite clear evidence that the overuse of important antibiotics for humans in the livestock industry spreads dangerous antibiotic resistance. Read More

How Well Do You Know Your Turkey?

by Efthimios Parasidis

In the United States, over 250 million turkeys are slaughtered each year, with over 45 million just for Thanksgiving. The overwhelming majority of these birds (over 99%) are a genetically engineered and industrially-farmed breed known as Broad Breasted White. As the name suggests, this breed of turkey has an unnatural abundance of white breast meat.  In many ways, industrial turkey farms are similar to industrial chicken farms–typically there are thousands of birds packed into a closed space with no natural light, no access to the outdoors, and mechanized feed and water (often laced with antibiotics and growth hormones). Adult turkeys in an industrial farm typically cannot walk properly or reproduce on their own, and artificial insemination is the norm. The eggs are hatched in an incubator and newborns have no contact with their mother. Shortly after birth, the young turkeys are placed into a large dark warehouse that will be the only space they will ever know. Their toes and beaks are cut without pain killers. Due to the grotesque environment, millions of birds die from “stress-induced conditions“. Those that survive grow at an astonishing rate, attaining market weight in just 12-18 weeks. The adults often are blind, due to lack of natural light and other factors (such as pecking fights in the tight quarters). According to one study, if a 7 pound human newborn grew at the same rate as an industrial turkey, it would be 1,500 pounds at 18 weeks of age.

A small but growing number of turkeys are non-genetically engineered Heritage Breeds. Heritage Breeds were in existence prior to the industrial-farming practices introduced in the 1960s, with some breeds tracing their roots to the 1800s. Standard farming practices for Heritage breeds include liberal roaming of pastures, humane growing conditions, and no antibiotics or growth hormones. Heritage turkeys are difficult to find, with some farmers requiring advanced notice (often months in advance) to purchase. The higher cost of Heritage turkeys (about $7 a pound, compared to approximately $1.50 a pound for industrial birds) reflects the higher cost of raising them, as well as insufficient subsidies for farmers employing organic and/or sustainable practices (along with over-subsidization of industrial and corporate farms).

It’s important to note that an organic turkey is not necessarily a Heritage breed. An organic turkey is any breed that has been fed an organic diet. Similarly, a free-range turkey is not necessary a Heritage breed. In fact, free-range does not mean that the turkey has actually stepped foot on a pasture. Rather, under USDA regulations, a bird can be labeled free-range if it lives in a space where there is access to the outdoors. Reaching the outdoors is immaterial. If knowing your turkey matters to you, be sure to ask the right questions, including the breed of the turkey, what feed the turkey has been provided (including whether the feed was comprised of genetically-modified ingredients), whether the turkey has been given antibiotics or other drugs or hormones, and whether the bird actually foraged in a pasture.

Peter Singer on Animals and Ethics

Video of the lecture is now available online.

By Chloe Reichel

Last Friday, Princeton ethicist Peter Singer joined Petrie-Flom for a lecture on “Ethics and Animals: Where are we now?” Singer began his talk with a historical look back at various religious and philosophical views of the relationship between humans and animals. He traced the lineage of thought from the view of dominion, which entails the idea that man has been granted free reign over animals by God (first found in Genesis, and also espoused by Aristotle); to the notions developed by Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant, who believed that abuse of animals was not itself morally problematic except to the extent that it may inculcate bad habits in those who practice it; to the early English Utilitarians, who recognized the capacity of animals to suffer; to Charles Darwin, whose groundbreaking theory of evolution muddied previous distinctions between human and non-human animals.

Singer went on to discuss modern views of proper animal treatment. He articulated the prevailing view that humans have some obligations to treat animals well and without cruelty, but that human interests exceed those of animals. Singer then laid out his main principle regarding the treatment of animals—that of equal consideration of interests. In other words, the interests of non-human animals should be considered equally with human interests. To favor human interests over animal interests is a speciesist stance, similar in nature to other –isms, like racism and sexism, and equally morally indefensible, in Singer’s view. Singer carefully noted that while equal consideration of interests would mandate better treatment of many animals, such as those raised as livestock, his principle does not imply that humans and animals should receive the same treatment.

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