Vegetarianism - It's Pro Life

I would like to respectfully respond to the letter, "Acronym may be what is needed" (December 16, 1997 issue) written by Edwina E. and Gene Cosgriff, in which they discuss animal rights and fetal rights.

The Cosgriffs correctly state, "No decent caring person wants to see animals cruelly, painfully and wantonly abused and/or slaughtered". Then they criticize PETA (People for the Ethical treatment of Animals) for opposing the use of animals for food. But how can one be against the cruel treatment of animals and then ignore the extremely brutal treatment of animals on "factory farms" and the slaughter of over 9 billion farm animals a year for diets that are having so many negative effects on human health and the environment? Here are just a few examples of how badly animals are treated today:

Chickens are extremely crowded in today's modern hen house, with 4 or 5 hens generally squeezed into a 12 inch by 18 inch cage. Poultry producers generally de-beak chickens with hot-knife machines, a very painful and often debilitating procedure. This is industry's answer to the fact that birds are often driven to crazed pecking, which harms and sometimes kills their fellow cell mates, reducing the producers' profits.

Since they have no value to the egg industry, male chicks are weeded out and disposed of by "chick-pullers." Daily over a half million chicks are stuffed into plastic bags, where they are crushed and suffocated. Alternately, they may be ground up while still alive to be used as fertilizer or be fed to other livestock.

On today's modern milk factories, cows are raised for maximum milk production at a minimum cost. The female cow is artificially inseminated annually and her young are taken away almost immediately, so that she will constantly be able to produce milk for the public. She lives with an unnaturally swelled up and sensitive udder, and she is likely to be kept inside a stall nearly her whole life, and she is milked up to 3 times a day. While the dairy industry would like people to believe that their cows are contented, today's factory- bred cows have to be fed tranquilizers to calm their nerves.

To produce pate de Fois gras, the liver of a goose or duck is fattened by having pounds of corn inserted by force down its gullet. The bird suffers tremendous pain, and as the liver grows to an enormous size, sclerosis of the liver develops. Finally, after 25 days of such agony, when the bird is completely stupefied with pain and unable to move, it is killed and the gigantic liver, considered a delicacy, is removed.

After being allowed to nurse for only 1 or 2 days, the dairy calf is removed from its mother, with no consideration of its need for motherly nourishment, affection, and physical contact. The calf is locked in a small slotted stall without enough space to move around, stretch, or even lie down. To obtain the pale, tender veal desired by consumers, the calf is purposely kept anemic by giving it a special high-calorie, iron-free diet. The calf craves iron so much that it would lick the iron fittings on its stall and its own urine if permitted to do so; it is prevented from turning by having its head tethered to the stall. The stall is kept very warm and the calf is not given any water, so that it will drink more of its high-calorie liquid diet. The very unnatural conditions of the veal calf - its lack of exercise, sunlight, fresh air, proper food and water and any emotional stimulation make for a very sick, anemic animal. Antibiotics and drugs are used to keep the calf from becoming ill. The calf leaves its pen only when taken for slaughter; sometimes it drops dead from the exertion of going to slaughter.

In her book, Animal Factories, Ruth Harrison eloquently summarizes how animals are raised today:

"To some animals have always been exploited by man in that he rears them specifically for food. But until recently they were individuals, allowed their birthright of green fields, sunlight, and fresh air; they were allowed to forage, to exercise, to watch the world go by, in fact to live. Even at its worst,...the animal had some enjoyment in life before it died. Today the exploitation has been taken to a degree which involves not only the elimination of all enjoyment, the frustration of all natural instincts, but its replacement with acute discomfort, boredom, and the actual denial of health. It has been taken to a degree where the animal is not allowed to live before it dies."

The Cosgriffs state, "After all, animals do not have God-given rights." However, many biblical laws mandate proper treatment of animals. One may not muzzle an ox while it is working in the field nor yoke a strong and a weak animal together. Animals, as well as their masters, are meant to rest on the Sabbath day. The importance of this concept is indicated by the fact that it is mentioned in the Ten Commandments and by traditional Jews on every Sabbath morning as part of the kiddush ceremony.

The psalmist indicates G-d's concern for animals, stating that "His compassion is over all of His creatures" (Psalm 145:9). And there is a precept in the Bible to emulate the Divine compassion, as it is written: "And you shall walk in His ways" (Deuteronomy 28:9). Perhaps the biblical attitude toward animals is best expressed by Proverbs 12:10: "The righteous person considers the soul (life) of his or her animal."

Moses and King David were considered worthy to be leaders because of their compassionate treatment of animals, when they were shepherds. Rebecca was judged suitable to be a wife of the patriarch Isaac because of her kindness in watering the ten camels of Eliezer, Abraham's servant. Rabbi Yehuda the Prince, the redactor of the Mishna, was punished for many years at the hand of Heaven for speaking callously to a calf being led to slaughter who sought refuge beside him.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, an outstanding 19th century philosopher, author, and Bible commentator, eloquently summarizes the Bible's view on treatment of animals:

"Here you are faced with God's teaching, which obliges you not only to refrain from inflicting unnecessary pain on any animal, but to help and, when you can, to lessen the pain whenever you see an animal suffering, even through no fault of yours." (Horeb, Chapter 60, #416)

A shift toward vegetarian diets would be consistent with biblical teachings about compassion to animals. It would also have many benefits for people, because vegetarianism is good for life: it is good for the millions of people whose lives are currently cut short by heart attacks, strokes, various types of cancer, and other diseases caused by animal-based diets; it is good for the life of the environment, since modern intensive livestock agriculture contributes substantially to air and water pollution, soil erosion and depletion, destruction of tropical rain forests and other important habitats, global warming, and other environmental problems; it is good for the world's hungry people, since currently 70 percent of the grain produced in the United States, and almost 40 percent produced worldwide, is fed to animals destined for slaughter, as 15 to 20 million people die of hunger and its effects worldwide. It is good for the world's resources, because plant-based diets require far less land, water, energy, and other resources that animal- based diets.

A shift toward vegetarianism would also reduce the number of abortions. Several studies have indicated that about 130 years ago, girls in wealthy countries reached puberty at an average age of 17 years. With the steady increase of animal products, along with increasing amounts of hormones and other additives, in our diets, this age has steadily decreased until it is an average of about 12 years today. Researchers at Duke University indicate that about half of the girls in America begin breast development and/or development of pubic hair by age nine. Hence, many girls face difficult, highly emotional situations at a time when they are emotionally immature.

The hypothesis that this major shift in the age of puberty is related to meat/dairy-centered diets is supported by the fact that in China where most people live on plant-centered diets, the age of puberty is still between 15 and 19 years; in contrast, the daughters and grand-daughters of Chinese women raised in the United States have the same early onset of puberty as other American girls.

This shift in the age of puberty has led to a crushing burden of illegitimate births. If a present-day girl menstruating at twelve - solely because of her diet - becomes pregnant and an unmarried mother at thirteen or fourteen, there will be two children in a great deal of trouble, in addition to a great cost to society. Hence, many of these illegitimate pregnancies result in abortions.

In summary, in addition to its many other health and environmental benefits, a shift to well-balanced vegetarian diets would help prevent early pregnancies, abortions, and many other social and emotional problems related to early sexual awareness and activities. Hence, I urge the Cosgriffs, and others who oppose abortions, to promote the diet that is truly pro-life, the diet that has positive benefits for all forms of life on the planet.

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