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animal rights & the ecological crisis

Increasingly the ecological crisis is being seen as more than a simple repair job. It causes are diffuse and systemic, so that band-aid measures are doomed to be ineffectual. The wholesale exploitation of nature, with little regard to the future or the preservation of other species is being viewed as consequent of the "grow or die" ideology of the free-market that views everythign only in dollar terms. Capitalism thrives on the notion of competion, and this engenders domination, exploitation and oppression. As ecofeminist Francoise d'Eubonne puts it, "…it is impossible, in a market system, not to devastate the planet"

Environmental devastation and animal exploitation often go hand in hand: trees are cleared for pasture to run cattle, cattle contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and their hard hooves impact on soil structure.

Often what is primarily an economic incentive is painted with the brush of altruism: that intensive and industrialised farming will increase the availablity of food in a starving world. This is simply untrue. The conversion ratio of grain to meat at 7:1 makes a mockery of this claim. Meat farming is the only food production method that uses more energy than it returns in kilojules. 80% of the world's soybean crop goes to animal feed, depriving humans of this inexpensive, high protein food source, to produce a lower protein food that is only avialbale to the rich. The lucrative animal feed industry gives added impetus to the chemical companies developing genetically modified crops. These companies epitomise the crux of the capitalist problem: they consider sole resposibility is to profit their shareholders, so they are ecologically and socially irresponsible at many levels. They create the products that contaminate our homes, food and the environment and put human and non-human lives and health at risk; that put the genetic makeup of wild life at risk; that allow them to influence goverments to their advantage by virtue of the power wealth affords them; that use coercive tactics which directly on indirect compel farmers to use their products, and the consequent destruction of community throught the end of the family farm as they become large scale agri-businesses.

Just as the ruthless drive for survival in the economic paradigm drives Queensland Farmers to strip their land of trees, so too it drives them to reduce their animal 'chattels' to bio-machines. Farms have become factories for processing animals. The value of the animal, as a locus of life and capable of experience has to be ignored to survive in this system. As the dollar input into agribusiness (in terms of antibiotics, chemicals, processed feed, 'techical' fees for use of patented life forms) concession to humane practice are sacrificed and animals become no more than "very efficient converting machines" (from Farm and Stockbreeder Journal) In their book Animal Factories 1984, Peter Singer and Jim Mason cite a very telling quote from a farm mangement journal: "Forget the pig as an animal. Treat him just like a machine in a factory. Schedule tretments like you would lubrication for you car"

The commodification of non-human life is of concern to both animal rights advocates and environmentalists alike: for in rendering life as a mere profitable resource, we render it morally irrelevant and without rights. Yet a majority of Australians do value nature and believe that "wilderness areas should be conserved for their won sake, not because people want to use them" to turn a profit (WS study 1996). Likewise, the suffering of non-human animals should not go unheeded, for if wilderness has value outside of human benefit, so too do animals. If the property rights of farmers that hitherto allowed them strip their land of trees has now been questioned by the (yet to be inplemented) Vegetation Mangement Act 1999, so too can the property rights over the sentient anials they exploit for money. Both forms of dominatin rely on an unjustifiable ideology, a hierarchy where profit is master. Given the bad effect meat-farming has on the environment, it's contribution to non-human suffering and it proven detriment to human health, non-participation is obligatory to recognising that life other than human is deserving of rights. Opting out of meat-eating is opting out of the system of domination that allows it to occur.

Kim Stewart

Animal Liberation Qld

November 2000


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