Martha note: It's Civic Soapbox Friday. . .
Having been an animal lover all of my life, it was not difficult to become vegan almost 12 years ago. As a vegan, I avoid inflicting suffering on animals by not using animal products.
Now, I still have a visceral, pained reaction when I see, hear about, or learn of the multitudinous ways humans intentionally harm animals.
I walk every morning through downtown Harrisonburg, and far too frequently I am passed by a poultry transport truck with dozens of white turkeys crammed into cages and stacked on top of each other. I can see the birds…and smell them…and watch their feathers float through the air as they continue on their way to one of the area processing plants. This leads me to think about the practice of animal farming and, through that, about factory farming, one of the cruelest practices in human (or animal) history.
Strangely enough, the Animal Welfare Act, which is the primary legislation to protect animals from abuse and needless suffering, covers only dogs, cats, and animals used for research. This leaves farmed animals, who are not explicitly covered by the AWA, with almost no protection or legal guarantee that they will be treated humanely, with the consideration they are due as living, feeling beings.
Despite these and other cruel industry standards, America lacks humane legislation, reliable labeling for how animals were raised, or significant support for ethical alternatives. Only a few states like California and Ohio are taking steps to phase out these practices.
The lack of widespread, reliable protection for farmed animals makes it an ethical imperative that we become conscientious consumers of animal products. Unless we buy direct from the farmer, how can we be sure we are not paying for factory-farmed animals. Even if we don’t opt for the most humane step of going vegan, and so refusing to turn animals into mere commodities, we can become vegetarian. Or if we do use animal products, we can shop compassionately, researching the producers of them. And we can speak out against farmed-animal abuse, telling our legislators and company executives that we care about farmed animals, too…not just our dogs and cats.
Yes, taking steps to reform the agricultural industry will be difficult, not to mention immediately suspect in a time of economic hardship. Still, it is the only way to protect our farmed-animal friends from cruelty. All we need to do is make the connection between the food in our grocery stores and the animals on farms. Then, it will be easy for us to see that farmed animals deserve consideration and a life without intentional, unnecessary harm… that we owe them more than a miserable life in a factory.
--Justin Van Kleeck is a writer and editor who lives in Harrisonburg