Wednesday, October 10, 2018

So-Called Progress

A Facebook friend recently shared an article from Global Meat News reporting that Maple Leaf Foods' is investing in "world class" animal welfare technology.

I snarkily quipped, "So enlightened!"
They answered, "I want the production of animals for meat to end, but, in the meantime, I want animals to suffer less in the process."
I replied, "I think things like this slow progress because they lull public concern. To the degree they do, they cause many more animals to suffer in the long term."
To which they said, "What is the evidence for that position? People are becoming vegan/vegetarian/reducitarian at the same time incremental steps towards more humane animal slaughter are being taken, with more being debated."

I like being challenged; it makes me look more carefully at what I believe and why I believe it. In this case, the first thing that came to mind as I wondered about my reaction was the history of animal welfare in the labs. It is my studied opinion that vivisectors' and their institutions' claims of humane care are fraudulent and entirely self-serving. It appears to me that their claims of humane care are used only to deflect public concern. Their secrecy supports this notion. My twenty-plus years of observation make me doubt the claims made by those who say the harms they inflict and the deaths they cause are achieved humanely.

From its website, it seems that Maple Leaf Foods is genuinely trying to treat the animals it raises and kills more humanely. My friend, and probably many others, says that is a good thing.

This is what the company says:
Maple Leaf Foods has strong values that define our culture and have a direct relationship on how we treat the animals we raise or source.

As the largest value-added meat protein company in Canada, we must be a leader in animal care. Animal welfare is an integral part of our culture and business. Our commitment to animal care focuses on progress in all of these areas:
Minimize or eliminate the use of antibiotics in animal care
Transition sows from confining gestation crates to open housing
Build a world-class animal care program that will be the foundation of a strong animal careculture
We are committed to enhancing our animal wellness practices in a manner that advances the Five Freedoms – the most widely accepted global standard for responsible animal care.

It may seem matter-of-fact and obvious that any reduction in suffering is a good thing. But reality is often complex. As I wondered about my intuitive aversion to the use of humane care as a marketing tool, I thought about examples from history. I wondered whether there might be examples that supported my worry that soft-peddling harm might, in fact, cause greater harm.

The electric chair came to mind. Prior to its invention and adoption as the preferred method of execution, most people condemned to death were hanged. The electric chair was promoted as a more humane method of killing, and it probably is.

One sad and interesting thing I learned is that electrocution was primarily developed using dogs, though other animals were also used. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_chair.

In any case, it appears, at least in the short term, that the development of a more humane way to execute people led to an increase, a large increase, in the number of people executed. The chart below is from https://deathpenalty.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=004087#V.



Between 1850-1899, 58 people were electrocuted and 3,781 were hanged. Between 1900 and 1949, 3,564 people were electrocuted and 2,677 people were hanged. It looks to me, from this data, that the number of executions increased because there was a purportedly humane way to kill people.

This isn't definitive, but it reinforces my impression that telling people that some terrible thing we are doing to others is now being done humanely promotes or at least sustains those practices.

It appears to me that the embrace of "humane" practices is a result of suppliers worrying about the public's increasing embrace of the idea that animals have rights. So, while these changes are good in a sense, they should more accurately be seen as rear-guard ploys to maintain and sustain the livelihoods of those who depend on hurting and killing others.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Another Day, Another Dire Warning. Or, How the Experts and Our Leading Institutions Continue to Fail Us.

The world has just over a decade to get climate change under control, U.N. scientists say “There is no documented historic precedent" for the scale of changes required, the body found.

The world stands on the brink of failure when it comes to holding global warming to moderate levels, and nations will need to take “unprecedented” actions to cut their carbon emissions over the next decade, according to a landmark report by the top scientific body studying climate change. (The Washington Post. October 7, 2018)

It's pretty clear that most of the scientists in decision-making roles at the National Institutes of Health, at the the Department of Agriculture, and at our large universities don't believe this. They might give lip service to the idea of climate change when they want or need to appear informed, but actions always speak louder than words.

There are numerous things the average person can do to combat our plant's warming. We can use low energy consuming light bulbs, low-flow shower heads, and low volume toilets. We can wash clothes in cold water, and turn off their lights, appliances and electronics not in use. And all told, those things will make a smidgen of a difference. But only a smidgen.

Even driving a high-efficiency car like a Prius will help, but even if we all drove one, we'd still be careening toward the cliff.

At the very top of the list of things the average person can do to slow global warming is not have children. Humans are the engine of climate change. There are just too many of us. Moreover, every child is likely to have children, and so on in turn, all of them contributing to poisoning the planet. There is nothing with as large a positive impact as not having children.

And yet, the National Institutes of Health spends gazillions trying to find ways for women with reproductive problems to get pregnant. For instance, Anna Krueger Allen, at Howard University received $388,397 to study reproduction in tiny worms.(Project Number: 1R15HD084253-01A1) She explained her main reasons for doing so:
Despite fantastic advancement made in reproductive technologies within the last few decades, approximately 10% of reproductive age couples in the United States still remain infertile. Unfortunately the existing assisted reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization, are not the cure-all answer to this significant societal problem.
She must believe that women not being able to get pregnant is a more pressing problem than ecological collapse, the displacement of millions of people, and the existential threat to civilization.

Institutions dedicated to overcoming infertility and birthing problems are paid for with tax dollars; one example is the Magee-Womens Research Institute [sic] in Pittsburg. I'm sure they do some good work, but they must not believe that our burgeoning population is the largest factor in the pending calamity that climate scientists keep pointing to. They either don't believe the experts or don't care or, and this is the most likely reason, the money they are paid makes them deaf and blind to the warnings.

One example: Since 2014, Kyle Orwig (Project 5P01HD075795-05) has received almost $7 million to find a way for men who have undergone radiation for testicular cancer to father children. He says:
Applying our discoveries on stem cell activity and niche quality in mouse and rat testes, it is now possible to restore fertility in infertile males by transplanting spermatogonial stem cells. ... Men or boys who receive chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer have few options to safeguard their fertility. Spermatogonial stem cell transplantation provides a potential therapeutic avenue. We recently demonstrated that transplanted spermatogonial stem cells could regenerate spermatogenesis and produce functional sperm in infertile male primates rendered infertile by chemotherapy treatment (Hermann et al., 2012). Ongoing studies will systematically evaluate the feasibility and safety of the stem cell transplant technology to preserve and restore the fertility of men or boys who will be rendered infertile due to disease or medical treatment.
He hopes that those men and boys will have children. But we should be encouraging people to not have children. We ought not be spending millions of tax dollars helping infertile women or couples have children. Orwig and his staff must believe that men unable to father children is a more pressing problem than ecological collapse, the displacement of millions of people, and the existential threat to civilization.

These are just a couple examples among very many that appear to demonstrate NIH-funded scientists' distrust or frank denial of the repeated warnings from the climate scientists. This proceed-as-if-everything-is-fine mentality permeates science. The journals plow ahead publishing papers on subjects far afield from the problems others point to on the fast-approaching horizon.

This helps explain the sliver of coverage global warming receives in the daily news shows, and until the local news and daily papers start regularly reporting on a problem, it isn't on most people's radar.

Second only to not having children, going vegan will have a greater positive impact than anything else the average person can do. And yet, USDA actively promotes meat eating. So, it seems reasonable to suppose that they don't believe the climate scientists either. Or, they must think that short-term financial gain for meat, egg, and dairy producers is more important than ecological collapse, the displacement of millions of people, and the existential threat to civilization. I don't see another way to explain USDA's efforts.

And it's not just NIH and USDA. Many colleges and universities promote animal agriculture. Many universities have large programs dedicated to teaching and promoting the production of meat, eggs, dairy, and other animal derived foods and products. The professors teaching those classes, indeed, the university chancellors and regents and donors must all dismiss the concerns raised by the climate scientists; how else to explain their proceed-as-if-everything-is-fine mentality except, perhaps, by greed and a complete disregard for those who will have to deal with future events?

And it isn't just NIH, the colleges and university, the media, and the USDA, many politicians don't seem to believe the climate scientists either. Tammy Baldwin, one of Wisconsin's U.S. Senators, introduced a bill to outlaw the use of the words milk, yogurt, and cheese in the names of plant-based products. But we should be encouraging people to stop eating the animal derived products because animal agriculture is repeatedly pointed to by climate scientists as a significant factor in global warming. So, Baldwin must not believe the climate scientists either, or else, as I have said above, she must believe that short-term financial gain for meat, egg, and dairy producers is more important than ecological collapse, the displacement of millions of people, and the existential threat to civilization. I don't see another way to explain her position and her "DAIRY PRIDE Act."

Given the fact that so many scientists, scientific institutions, colleges and universities, government agencies, media outlets, and politicians don't seem to place much if any weight on the fears of those who study climate, it seems that we will be putting their scientific claims to the test in a real-world experiment.

I grew up reading science fiction and dystopian novels. It looks to me like I might get a chance to experience something akin to one of those stories. To paraphrase an old curse, it looks like we will be living through some interesting times.