Guest Columnists

The Call to Mercy

by Father Frank Mann

Second in a series

Most certainly, a plethora of folk are choosing to eat less (or no) meat for a variety of reasons. From a health perspective, studies are validating that meat abstinence is often healthier and has likewise been associated with lower levels of obesity, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and total mortality in general.

While such health-conscious choices alone may encourage an individual to become a vegetarian, it is certainly a vast array of animal welfare-rights issues which are the most convincing forces that shape a contemporary, urgent paradigm to support individuals in their decision to go meatless.

Every day, thousands of cows, calves, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens and countless other animals are left to suffer in torment on factory farms.

“Animals are daily dragged, beaten, pushed with forklifts and shocked with electric prods to get them onto the slaughterhouse kill floor where they are processed for the human food supply,” said Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, a refuge for formerly abused and neglected factory farm animals in upstate New York.

Addressing the U.S. Senate in 2001, the late Senator Robert Byrd commented, “Our inhumane treatment of livestock is becoming widespread and more and more barbaric.”

So too, a growing body of research on animal sentience has clearly demonstrated that farm animals not only experience pain and suffering when they are mistreated and mutilated but can likewise become frustrated and stressed when forced to live in conditions that prevent them from carrying out their natural behaviors. Farm animals also have the ability to develop an array of complex relationships with both humans and other animals. They “understand” the world around them.

Last summer, an international group of prominent scientists signed what is known as the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness, which strongly declared that “…animals are just as aware as humans and it is no longer something that we can ignore.”

Sadly, most people have no idea of the extent to which farm animals are abused and exploited. Some time ago, The New York Times published an article titled “An Animal’s Place.” It stated, “There is a schizoid quality to our relationship with animals, in which sentiment and brutality exist side by side. Half the dogs in America will receive Christmas presents this year, yet few of us pause to consider the miserable life of a pig – an animal easily as intelligent as a dog – that becomes the Christmas ham.”

It is significant to note that pigs are intelligent, social animals with learning and problem-solving abilities. Professor emeritus of animal sciences at the University of Illinois, Dr. Stanley Curtis states, “Pigs could be as smart as chimpanzees… They are known to have long-term memories and develop proven, complex communication systems.

“Pigs are social, playful and protective animals who bond with each other as well as humans,” he added.

Cambridge University professor Dr. David Broom states, “Pigs have a unique cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated, perhaps even more than dogs and certainly more than a three-year-old child.”

More than 80 percent of the nearly six million pigs raised for breeding in the U.S. are kept immobilized for months inside narrow metal gestation crates, barely wider than their bodies.

When sows are put into small pens, “they indicate by their behavioral responses that they find confinement aversive,” according to the Scientific Veterinary Committee of the European Commission. Gestation crates have been banned by the European Union.

An organization dedicated to preventing cruelty to farm animals, Mercy for Animals (MFA), recently uncovered abuse on a factory farm that provides pork for Walmart supermarkets.

“Workers were caught on video violently slamming live piglets headfirst into the ground, pulling off their tails (‘tail docking’) without any use of painkillers,” according to MFA.

A pig’s natural life expectancy is about 15 years. They are slaughtered at the young age of about six months.

Matthew Scully, author of Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, describes industrial farming as a “dominion of power,” a posture with us and not God at the center, “all grandeur and no grace.”

In a similar vein, Russian writer Leo Tolstoy wrote, “If a human aspires towards a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from injury to animals.”

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3 thoughts on “The Call to Mercy

  1. I am a member of the Christian Vegetarian Association from whom I received the links to this three part series. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the author and to The Tablet; thank you for your courage to stand up for all of God’s creatures and to encourage people to consider the choices they make and how they affect God’s creation.

    God bless you!

  2. I am also a member of the Christian Vegetarian Association, and a Quaker. I am grateful to hear your voice of compassion for our animal cousins. I believe that a part of the meaning of the leadership of the little child in the Peaceable Kingdom scene, and St. Paul’s promise that “the creation shall be freed from its bondage to decay and attain the glorious liberty of the children of God” is that as we are increasingly united to God in our prayer life, and show God’s love for all beings to our best ability in our daily actions, including diet, that God will work through us to further this cosmic process of liberation.
    I trust you will not object if I post the links to your three essays in the March-April issue of my online journal, The Peaceable Table.
    Thank you for your courage. May you be filled with all the fullness of God.