Which is it Mr. Singer: Children or Cattle?

Peter Singer managed to anger
animal rights activists with a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, “The Singer Solution to World Poverty.” With his typical
flair for sweeping (and baseless) moral judgments, Singer argued that
Americans who do not give at least 20 percent of their income to solve
world hunger are morally equivalent to someone who would sell a Brazilian
child to be killed for his or her organs (a situation he borrowed from
the Brazilian film “Central Station.”)

Unfortunately for Singer,
he angered some animal rights activists and groups by recommending that people
donate to Oxfam which, all things considered, is probably the best place
to donate money if stopping world hunger is where you want to concentrate
your charitable giving. The only problem for the animal activists is that
Oxfam helps poor people in the developing world buy cattle and other animals
for agricultural purposes.

Since Singer is already on record
that eating meat is superfluous and therefore equivalent to murder except
in dire emergency situations, his position seems to be that Americans
are heartless murderers regardless of what they do. Are we to save a child
at the expense of a poor cow? In his book, Animal Liberation, Singer is unwavering in his view that this is unacceptable, especially
since animal agriculture is completely unnecessary.

Aside from this there are a couple
other problems and inconsistencies with Singer’s argument. First, he repeatedly
mentions the horrors faced by children in the Third World, which is certainly
a legitimate concern. It is surprising that given his well-known
views on suffering, that Singer does not simply recommend that Americans
underwrite a program to painlessly euthanize children who are probably
going to starve to death or die from malaria anyway. This would probably
be less expensive as well as meet Singer’s utilitarian criteria of minimizing

Second, Singer’s attempt at equating actively murdering someone with refusing to contributing to aid organizations is absurd, especially in the context of international aid. Singer
laments that aid from the developed world to the developing world is far
below goals set by the United Nations, but never mentions that a large
part of the reason is the horrible track record of such aid. The main
reason people starve in Third World countries is due to the corrupt, incompetent
governments there and, as heartless as it may sound, feeding those governments
more aid money is often counterproductive and may prolong suffering
by making corrupt regimes survive longer than they would without the aid.

Already this year controversy erupted
when it was revealed that aid intended to help out poor Russians was diverted
into the accounts of Russian politicians. Studies of the International Monetary Fund
and World Bank aid programs suggest that up to half of all such aid to
the most impoverished parts of the world may be diverted. Certainly some
groups such as Oxfam do a wonderful job, but Singer’s emphasis on large
amounts of giving for such a narrow purpose is extremely shortsighted
and by no means the obvious best solution to combat world hunger.

PETA Protests Military Survival Training

One of the major missions of
the U.S. military is to ensure its soldiers have the skills needed to
not only fight effectively but also to train them to survive the myriad of conditions they might face in armed combat. As part of that mission, the military provides training
to soldiers on how to survive if they are trapped behind enemy lines.

Since eating
is a big part of surviving and a stranded soldier cannot just walk into
an Iraqi restaurant and order takeout, the military teaches soldiers how to kill and cook animals.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is having a fit because the Air Force buys hundreds of rabbits and
uses them to show soldiers how to bludgeon the animal with a club and
then properly prepare them. Soldiers are also taught how to prepare snakes,
turtles and chickens.

According to PETA, “It is
pointless for a soldier to practice killing small domestic mammals and
birds, considering that in a true survival experience, few would have
trouble killing such an animal if survival depended on it.” Well at least
PETA’s not suggesting that soldiers should carry Linda McCartney t-shirts
saying “Go Veggie” on them if in a survival situation, but simply assuming
that all soldiers would know how to kill animals for food is the sort
of assumption that gets people killed when they are finally faced with
emergency situations.

In other news, PETA announced
in a press release that MediaCom Inc. had cancelled the billboard space
that PETA purchased in Regina and Calgary, Canada to run its ad linking
meat eating to impotence. The ad features a woman in a bikini next to
the message, “I threw a party but the cattlemen couldn’t come.” According
to PETA, MediaCom informed the animal rights group that it received so
many calls from “angry residents and women’s groups” that it was yanking
the ads. PETA said its lawyers are studying whether or not PETA might
have a legal remedy against MediaCom for breach of contract.

Cockfighting and Animal Welfare

The “sport” of cockfighting remains legal
in only three states – Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico — but is causing
a widespread controversy following the introduction of a bill by Senator
(and veterinarian) Wayne Allard (R-Colorado) that would ban the interstate
sale of chickens for cockfighting purposes. Both of Louisiana’s senators,
John Breaux and Mary Landrieu, oppose the bill based largely on a states’
rights argument (the individual states should be left to decide whether
or not cockfighting remains legal rather than the federal government).

For his part Allard says he
is only trying to close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act. The AWA
prohibits the interstate transportation of fighting dogs but is silent
about fighting birds. “The senator doesn’t want to tell the people
of Louisiana what to do,” Allard’s spokesman Sean Conway told the
New Orleans Times-Picayune, “but you’ve got breeders shipping
roosters all over (the country), not just to Louisiana, and law enforcement
people are having a heck of a time cracking down.”

Of course numerous animal
rights groups have endorsed the proposed new law. What has surprised
me is the level of support for cockfighting among otherwise level headed
animal welfare advocates. A completely unscientific poll conducted
on my this site asked people, “Should cockfighting be banned?” Of the
396 people who responded, 131 agreed that it should be banned while 265
said no, cockfighting should not be banned. In discussing this result,
it quickly became apparent that the support of cockfighting was actually
a rather rigid opposition to animal rights groups.

The argument seems
to be that if animal rights groups support it, it must be a bad idea.
Giving any ground to the animal rights movement or conceding that cockfighting
might be abusive would be giving PETA and other groups a victory that
can be ill-afforded, according to proponents of this view.

In my opinion this is a self-defeating
position wrought with numerous problems. First, it gives way too much
credence to the animal rights groups. Whether or not a particular use
of an animals is justifiable should be based on evaluating it from an
animal welfare position rather than on what animal rights groups and
activists think about it. Inevitably animal welfare and animal rights
advocates will occasionally arrive at the same position for different
reasons. Discarding animal welfare views simply because they happen to
coincide with the animal rights position on occasion is neither wise nor

Second, it is an obviously
hypocritical position. Nobody is going to (or even should) believe animal
welfare advocates when they claim to want to minimize the suffering of
laboratory animals or animals raised in an agricultural setting if those
same advocates then turn a blind eye to something such as cockfighting.
Where is the consistency in that position?

In fact cockfighting seems
to violate all of the precepts of a reasonable animal welfare philosophy
and should be banned. Cockfighting is not a case of a necessary human
use of animals that simply needs to be regulated so as to minimize suffering.
The whole point of cockfighting is to introduce suffering under a semi-controlled
environment for the visceral thrill of a gathered crowd or for the thrill
of wagering on the often deadly contest. Human beings may need to cause
pain and suffering to animals as an unfortunate side effect of some other
legitimate use, but to cause pain and suffering as an end in itself is
the antithesis of animal welfare.

The Associated Press recently
ran a story about Cesar Cerda, a 26-year-old California resident, who received
what is believed to be the longest prison sentence ever handed down for cruelty to animals. Cerda was sentenced to 7 years in jail for training
dogs to fight each other to the death. As the AP described Cerda, “[he]
earned up to $5,000 a month from gamblers who watched the animals fight
in a bloodstained pit.” Prosecutor Brian Myers described how “he
took these dogs to the brink of death and then nursed them back to health
so they could fight again.” Because of their training, all of the
dogs seized from Cerda had to be euthanized.

The sentence may have been
a bit long, but the principle behind the ban on animal fighting seems
immensely sound to this writer. These animals are being used to study
medical problems or raised for food or even used for their fur. They’re
being trained to fight for the sheer enjoyment that other people get from
watching them fighting.

What Goes Around Comes Around

Following the passage of Arizona’s
ban on cockfighting, an unidentified group is circulating a press release
claiming that those in favor of cockfighting are using the Internet to
harass and target animal rights activists who supported the measure.

“Taking a page from the anti-abortion
movement’s book on terrorism, Arizona cockfighters have posted a
list of animal activists’ names at a website on the Internet,”
the press release claims.

Antiabortion terrorism? Try animal
rights terrorism. Assuming the press release is accurate, these people
are doing to animal rights activists exactly what the activists have been
doing to medical researchers, fur farmers and others for years. Animal
rights activists regularly post to the Internet the names and phone numbers
of medical researchers, journalists who write disapproving articles, fur
farmers and others.

This is what happens when social
movements self-righteously believe they are so obviously correct that
they may break the law with impunity and attack indiscriminately both
persons and property who get in their way. Officials with animal rights
organizations such People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals issue fawning
press releases and articles defending the activities of groups such as
the Animal Liberation Front, but animal rights activists are the first
ones to cry foul when their tactics are turned back on them.

Not that I support taking direct
action against animal rights activists. As I have said before, the main
thing that such direct action does is discredit animal rights activists
in the eyes of most Americans. The reaction to the recent destruction
of more than $12 million in property at Vail proved that point. Even those
local environmentalist and activists who opposed the new Vail development
condemned the action and the attack did more than anything to unite that
community behind the ski resort. Engaging in direct action against animal
rights activists only risks giving them sympathy on a potentially national
stage that they simply don’t deserve.


Cockfighters use Internet to target animal activists. Citizens Again Cockfighting, Press Release, November 6, 1998.

PETA's Latest Follies

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is back to its bizarre ways (if I didn’t know better, I’d swear
this group had been taken over by hunters looking to discredit the animal
rights movement). In mid-September PETA showed up to protest at the American
Meat Institute convention and held a “human barbecue.” It barbecued
tofu in the shape of a “cattleman.”

“People eat other animals,
why not humans?” asked PETA President Ingrid Newkirk in a press release.
“The notion of eating any animals should be as preposterous as cannibalism.
So eating a hamburger is the same as roasting up Uncle Bob.”

If that wasn’t enough, PETA attacked
ads featuring the National Football League’s John Randle, who plays defensive
tackle for the Minnesota Vikings. The commercial, paid for by Nike, shows
Randle making a small football jersey emblazoned with a No. 4 similar to
the one that Green Bay Packer quarterback Brett Favre wears. Randle then
practices chasing the chicken around the field (Favre is known for his
ability to take off running if he can’t find a receiver to throw
to). The chicken keeps getting away from Randle until the finale where
the audience sees Randle standing over a grill where he is preparing chicken.

PETA, of course, is horrified that
the ad is running and wants it pulled immediately. In fact, PETA claims
that “the commercial mimics what psychologists now see as a sign
of criminal mentality, in that pleasure is apparently derived from trauma
inflicted on a vulnerable animal.” According to Newkirk, “Young
people who see Randle as a role model may learn to associate the terror
of defenseless chickens as a form of amusement.”

So eating hamburger is cannibalism
and chasing a chicken is a sure sign that one is a sociopathic criminal.

I know a lot of anti-animal rights
people despise PETA, but in my opinion they are our best ally. No single
person or group does more to discredit animal rights and show just how
bizarre the animal rights agenda is than PETA.