Saturday, March 31, 2007

Really bad timing...

I have been posting about the animal rights movement and its possible impact on livestock production in the US. We have also been reporting on the ongoing pet-food contamination uproar (see this week's USFR).

What if the two issues began to overlap?
If you think of dogs and cats as members of the family, you might figure you could collect damages for pain and suffering if they were to die because of wrongdoing.

The law in California and many other states sees things differently. Pets are treated as personal property, like cars and computers.

But that could be changing, as contaminated pet food is believed to be responsible for the deaths of dozens of dogs and cats nationwide.

"You'll see a lot of pressure on legislators to remove liability barriers, to not see these animals as property but as entities like humans," said Jon Katz, the author of several books on the changing relationship between dogs and people. [More]

Once companion animals achieve "family" status, it could conceivably raise all animals' legal position, just by comparison. Not necessarily to companion status, but some vague slightly less non-human category. I don't want to seem Cassandra-like, but if we see hundreds of thousands of lawsuits over the pet food, those attorneys won't have to look far for their next targets.

To date, we have somehow managed to differentiate between companion animals and food animals.
The twentieth century has most certainly borne witness to the exploitation of animal resources upon a scale far grander than ever before. The most striking development - as animal rights activists are keen to point out - is the way in which the cleft between ourselves and agricultural animals has grown as these animals have been increasingly accorded the status of `machines', through the development of the intensive farming methods deemed necessary to meet ever-growing human food demands. Yet whilst the divide between ourselves and food-producing animals has continued to expand, our identification with and dependence upon the smaller, more cuddly species that we keep as pets has also grown. We increasingly keep pets to satisfy our emotional, rather than material, needs and seem to gain tactile comfort and trust from them which might not be found elsewhere in our modern lives. This development has led the birth of small animal medicine and the pet food industry, both of which have done increasingly booming business since 1945. However, even the seemingly innocuous family pet that lurks in our homes, gardens and public parks can be potentially detrimental to our health. For example, pet animal excrement is not only an environmental nuisance, but can also harbour unpleasant infections, such as toxoplasmosis and toxocara, which can seriously threaten human health. Pets can also expose people to a variety of bacterial infections and cause severe allergies. Rigorous animal management and veterinary controls greatly minimise the risks that pet animals pose to human health. Yet again providing evidence of the efficacy of the modern veterinary regime in reducing the potential risks posed by our intimacy with and exploitation of other species. [More]
I'm not sure that separation can persist. And this further convinces me that petting zoos are a really, really, bad idea for animal agriculture.

It may also be useful to speculate where this greater attachment to animals arises. Is it because we have fewer children? More money? A new perspective on how religion applies? An all-living-things-together attitude? A response to the trauma of our lives? A lack of human contact?

My uneasy guess: All of the above.

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