Posts Tagged 'welfarism'

Take five

B.C. SPCA issues challenge.

May is Be Kind to Animals Month, a time when animal lovers across Canada are encouraged to show special compassion for their furry and feathered friends. In theory we should be celebrating Be Kind to Animals 365 days a year but sadly, the 37,000 abandoned and abused animals rescued by the BC SPCA last year are proof that this isn’t always the case.

To mark Be Kind to Animals Month the SPCA is encouraging British Columbians to embrace the Take Five Challenge by taking five steps to improve life for animals in B.C. and encouraging five friends to do the same.

Gentle death

On Manitoba Egg Farmers’ adoption of Five Freedoms.

I would like to address those farmers who are concerned that animal welfare activists are trying to put farmers out of business. I belong to such a group called THEN, The Humane Education Network, which has an educate-advocate mandate and absolutely no interest in putting anybody out of business.We want to become better informed of the producers’ perspective and to remove the adversarial component that seems to be prevalent.

My household buys only free-run eggs and humanely raised pork and cheerfully pays the slightly higher prices. I personally believe that North Americans will never stop eating their burgers or bacon and eggs. This means the only remedy is to improve living-dying conditions for farmed animals.

Stress free

New slaughterhouse to keep cows calm.

“It’s important for the animals to be calm,” said the owner of Les Viandes Laroche, a small meat-making firm in the town of Asbestos, smack dab in the middle of a rural triangle cornered by Sherbrooke, Drummondville and Victoriaville.

The company is building an $11-million slaughterhouse near its processing plant in Asbestos.

Notably, the new slaughterhouse will feature big windows and classical music in the penned areas, where up to 700 cattle a week will arrive on trucks and await processing, starting in May.


Writer resolves to eat only happy meat.

. . . there is something I can do better. I can choose to eat only those things that have had a happy life.I realize I am at the top of the food chain. I’m happy here. My opposable thumb and ability to reason gives me that edge over those beneath me. If I were on an ice flow with Madam Polar Bear, she may have an arguable point but for the most part . . . I get to choose what I eat.

I like chicken; it’s my favourite . . .

Of mongrels and men: Don LePan’s Animals

Animals, by Don LePan, Esplanade books, 179 pages

The Argument from Marginal Cases is a philosophical gambit used by some advocates of animal rights. In short: if only humans deserve full moral status, that status must be a result of some property that all of us, and only us, possess; but name a property – reason, language – and there are “marginal” humans – infants, people with severe intellectual disabilities – that don’t have it; and any property that all human beings do share – sentience, the ability to suffer – is shared by most non-humans, too; so assuming we still agree that all humans are worthy of full moral status, most non-humans must also deserve such status.

Don LePan’s Animals is a novelization of this argument. A “great extinction of species” has wiped out all livestock and most fish; people with intellectual disabilities or “physical deformities” have come to be considered not “marginal” but “mongrels”; hankering for something resembling the old-fashioned form of protein, humans have set up factory farms for mongrels; if we feel this is revolting and wrong, then it must also be revolting and wrong to factory farm non-human animals.

The main variable in this thought experiment is Sam, a mongrel who, abandoned by his family at nine years old, spends the rest of his childhood as a pet. Sam’s story has been recorded in a manuscript by one of his keepers, and this manuscript is presented to the reader, and frequently commented on, by Broderick Clark, an advocate for mongrel welfare. In other words, Animals is a story within a story, it is Sam’s story contextualized by Broderick’s descriptions of the broader dystopia.

Both Sam and Broderick possess distinctive, believable voices. Sam reads Where the Wild Things Are and thinks “I want the walls to become the world all around, like they are for Max. And then he wanted to be where someone loved him best of all and I want that too, that’s all I want, really.” Broderick, though he objects to factory farming, takes for granted that mongrels are “sub-human,” and is always utterly assured: “All it took to demolish those [arguments that mongrels are humans] – those sorts of outbursts, really, you could hardly in fairness call them arguments – was one simple fact, one simple example. A mule comes out of the womb of a horse, and it is not a horse.” Sam’s mother, a relatively minor character, also possesses distinctive diction: “I think what I am doing is for the best . . . but I am not knowing this. Sometimes I am thinking there is nothing we can know . . .”

Broderick’s voice, however, prevails. His comments on Sam’s story take up nearly forty percent of the first two of the book’s three parts, and begin on the second page of the text. And his notes are themselves heavily footnoted. The detail here is impressive and occasionally compelling: Broderick gives etymologies of the labels of his day, considers why an upper class might want to keep meat and alcohol cheap, and debunks the “campaign against soy.” But his interjections make it very difficult to engage with Sam’s story.

Perhaps this is the point. Broderick is a kind of Polonius-figure, he pipes up “just briefly to sketch some of the historical background” and then goes on for pages, he doesn’t want to be “too much of a distraction” but he can’t stop talking. Perhaps LePan wants us to see Broderick the way Shakespeare wants us to see Polonius: as a fool. After all, we can hardly be expected to admire his condemnations of factory farming when what he’s advocating is humane cannibalism. Broderick is like Professor Pieixoto, too, the twenty-second century historian who edits, titles, and presents the tale of Offred in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Using the reasoned, detached language of academia, Pieixoto argues that “we must be cautious about passing moral judgment upon the Gileadeans. Surely we have learned by now that such judgments are of necessity culture-specific.” Having spent an entire novel judging the Gileadeans for destroying Offred’s family, obliterating her identity, and subjecting her to what might well be described as “humane” rape, readers must find Pieixoto’s suggestion reprehensible. The problem is that unlike Polonius and Pieixoto, Broderick is more than a parody. In fact, he is the most fully formed, and thus the most sympathetic, character in LePan’s novel. It’s not just that we hear his voice most. In addition to being an academic and activist, Broderick is Sam’s older brother. As such, he is “careful and caring,” and he defends his “different” younger sibling from bullying. He doesn’t understand Sam, and his care cannot save Sam, but it does open up the possibility that the ethical position he arrives at as an adult is at least partly an attempt to come to terms with what happened to his little brother.

All this puzzling over Broderick is made moot in the end by LePan’s Afterword. Here it becomes clear that the character’s ethical position, far from being a joke or a warning, and in addition to perhaps being a reaction to childhood trauma, is the same as his author’s. Both Broderick and LePan are arguing – passionately, eloquently, earnestly – for an end to factory farming, for improved welfare for food animals, but neither is arguing for animal rights, neither is arguing for the abolition of animal use. There is nothing wrong with this position per se; it’s common and often convincing in contemporary discussions of our obligations toward non-humans. But within the world of LePan’s novel – where humans with intellectual disabilities are stand-ins for, are equated with, non-human animals – it is absolutely untenable, as it suggests that it might be acceptable to use humans with intellectual disabilities for food so long as we do not factory farm them. Broderick defends the indefensible, and rather than laugh or scoff at him, LePan wants us to take him seriously. This failure to condemn the killing and eating of humans with intellectual disabilities does not, obviously, mean that LePan might actually support such a practice. No reader could possibly come away from his book thinking so. Nevertheless, while Broderick’s three-dimensionality, his humanity, makes for good fiction, it is also despicable philosophy and dangerous politics, and these are realms that LePan clearly wants his novel to exist in.

Animals makes one more major omission that is not quite dangerous but is disappointing. On the first page of the novel, LePan makes it explicit that Sam is not, in fact, intellectually disabled – not a mongrel – but is deaf. Among “marginal” cases, then, Sam is himself marginal, his classification as a mongrel is a mistake. Like Peter “We cannot expect a child with Down syndrome to play the guitar, to develop an appreciation of science fiction, to learn a foreign language, to chat with us about the latest Woody Allen movie, or to be a respectable athlete” Singer – the most famous proponent of the Argument from Marginal Cases, and a blurber of LePan’s book (“An engaging story that asks deep and challenging questions”) – LePan is here interested in “marginal” cases as far as they can help him make his point about animals and no farther; he wants to use them in his thought experiment but does not seem interested in giving a full account of their lives or in attempting to convey their voices. 

A symptom of this disinclination is LePan’s refusal to name names. His mongrels are not people with Down syndrome – named after the physician John Langdon Down – or Asperger’s syndrome, or muscular dystrophy. They’re people with “Peake’s Syndrome” – named after “James Langford Peake” – “Gyberger’s Syndrome,” and “Sellars’ dystrophy.” Journalist Margaret Wente appears in the novel as Margaret Wente; a 2008 Harvard study on soy appears as a 2008 Harvard study on soy; scientists Samuel Wood and Andrew French appear as Samuel Wood and Andrew French, respectively. Only disabilities exist in a pseudonymous parallel universe.

At the end of his Afterword, LePan argues convincingly that “Those who posit a clear dividing line between human and non-human have often suggested that one uniquely human quality is the power to exercise a moral imagination: the power to imagine ourselves in the place of another being, and to modify or change our own actions in the light of that imaginative experience . . . if we fail to put such imaginative power to use . . . then we are helping to sustain a system founded on almost limitless human cruelty.” One is left wishing that LePan had spent less time attempting to animate lifeless philosophy, less time echoing arid voices of reason, and instead used his evident imaginative powers to explore the life and the voice of one of his mongrels, or of a person with Down syndrome, or of a cow or a pig or a chicken. One is left wishing, in other words, that LePan had trusted his own imaginative powers further.

Chicken survey

Poll commissioned by Vancouver Humane Society says majority of Canadians willing to pay more for “humanely” produced food and in favour of ban on battery cages.

British Columbians were the most opposed to the use of battery cages, with 69% supporting a provincial ban, followed by Quebec (66%), Alberta (65%) and Ontario (61%). Results from a similar poll in 2007 suggest there has been an increase in public support for a ban over the past two years.

Countries such as Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands have all banned the use of battery cages, as will the entire European Union as of 2012, and the State of California in 2015.

“Canadians are becoming more compassionate as they learn more about how our food is actually produced,” said Leanne McConnachie, Director of Farm Animal Programs for VHS. “If consumers want to make a difference now, the best option is to make compassionate choices in the grocery store. In Canada, Certified Organic standards guarantee that the eggs come from free-range and free-run hens.”

Also, majority of Canadians think everything’s fine.

The poll also found that 62 percent of Canadians believe farm animals are treated humanely in the process of producing food and other products.

VHS has slick site here.

Animal legislation

Interview with new executive director of Nova Scotia SPCA.

Q: If you could create or improve one piece of animal welfare legislation, what would it be?

A: I’ve had an opportunity to work on legislation in Ontario that was recently amended and proclaimed that finally developed a provincial offence for animals being in distress. That didn’t exist before. It was only for animals for hire, for sale or for breeding. Nova Scotia is ahead of the game in that regard, as there is an existing provincial offence for animals in distress. Additionally, there’s new legislation (Bill 186) that has . . . been approved and is just awaiting proclamation. I look forward to seeing that come into effect. I think our next opportunity, where legislation is concerned, is instituting regulations that really define standards of care for animals so that people can really understand what their responsibilities are and there can be a clear structure in place for enforcement.



Yann Martel's Beatrice & Virgil


Trevor Herriot


Erika Ritter


Toronto's cat problem


Don LePan


Don LePan's Animals


Justine Pimlott's Cat City


Erika Ritter's The Dog by the Cradle, the Serpent Beneath