January 13, 2004
by Dennis T. Avery
Zealots have apparently struck another blow at the civility of modern society, this time in broadly tolerant Sweden. Swedish police are dealing with two appalling cases in which “animal rights” activists may have injected rat poison into meat in supermarkets.
“The crime has not yet been proven since we don’t know exactly which poison we are looking for,” said a Swedish police official. Nevertheless, witnesses have come forward, and one store recently removed nearly 200 pounds of meat from its retail cases to protect its customers.
Regardless of whether the anonymous activists actually did inject the poison as they claimed to have done, this latest attack on other people’s right to eat what they want is an obvious outrage. Even the threat of a terrorist act is terrorism, of course, and since “animal rights” zealots have already burned research buildings and laboratories, and attacked fur farms, the threat that they will inject rat poison in our meat is all too credible.
The “animal rights” movement may not yet have learned the ugly lesson of September 11. Caring intensely about something doesn’t give any of us the right to go outside the political process to force our beliefs on others, be they about vegetarian diets, Islam-or-die theology, or hatred of urban sprawl or abortion.
If we permit extremists to have their way, our societies will inevitably be run by fanatics with guns. The majority of us will be enslaved to their passions, and the general good will be ignored. That is why the rule of law and political process are essential to a civilized life.
I put “animal rights” activists in quotes because I do not for a moment believe that animal rights are actually what they are seeking. Think about the result of scaring people into giving up meat, milk, and eggs. All of the cows and calves in pastures across the countryside would disappear. No cattle owner can afford to provide land and protective fences for cattle that can’t be sold. Farmers would grow trees or grain instead.
Billions of laying hens would be put out of work, and probably to death, no matter what size their cages. It’s hard to imagine that the radical group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has given much serious thought to livestock welfare: after all, its real agenda is livestock elimination.
Consistently, the demands of “animal rights” activists would be bad for the creatures they pretend to represent. In Europe, for example, activists have demanded that laying hens get a daily recess outdoors, which means that huge numbers of the chickens contract epidemic diseases and spread dangerous bacteria to their eggs. It is interesting that the prospect of causing additional death and disease has failed to deter the “animal rightists” from demanding outdoor playtime for chickens.
In America, if PETA had its way, all the nation’s dairy cows would be turned into pet food. But that’s a bit of a problem, because the “animal rights” activists don’t want people to be allowed to keep pets, either. They say, for example, that when your child showers affection on a puppy and feeds it, the kid is guilty of exploiting the poor creature; he doesn’t love it as much as some activists several hundred miles away do.
But if we stop having pets, all the companion cats and dogs will have to be killed. We obviously can’t release them and have packs of wild dogs attacking wildlife and children. Wild dogs and cats would spread rabies and other diseases and destroy the tranquility of our neighborhoods. And allowing them to die off through attrition—letting people keep present pets but not have any more—would be a logistical nightmare that would never work and would invite people to break the law.
So the real result of “animal rights” activists “concern” for our pets would have to be a horrifying kill-off of innocent animals.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the “animal rights” agenda is their effort to stop medical researchers from using animals to test new drugs—drugs designed to protect the health of both people and domestic animals.
I hate to admit this, but my family’s annual veterinary bills are much higher than our doctor bills. In affluent societies, the pets get just as good care as the kids. PETA, however, doesn’t care a bit about how much we actually love animals; they believe that their abstract “concern” for animals’ welfare should trump all other considerations.
The ugliest “animal rights” scenes occur when PETA activists turn animals loose. When activists turn loose thousands of mink from a fur farm, they are actually putting the animals in dreadful jeopardy: in the following weeks, the great majority of these innocent creatures will be run over by cars, kill each other in fights, or starve.
I found it hard to cede moral authority to animal rights fanatics before September 11. Since then, I find it impossible. I feel angry rather than guilty. And if they’re starting a new terror campaign in which they plan to put rat poison in meat, or even if they only mean to threaten to do so and thereby hope scare us away from the deli counter, they are putting themselves in the same vicious, anti-human category as al Qaeda.
Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.
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