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Pigs, Calves, and American Democracy

Peter SingerPeter Singer is Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. His books include Writings on an Ethical Life and One World. His most recent book, co-authored with Jim Mason, is The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. His most recent piece on Webdiary was Madonna and Child

by Peter Singer

Amidst all the headlines about the Democrats gaining control of the United States Congress in the November elections, one big election result was largely ignored. Although it illuminated the flaws of America’s political system, it also restored my belief in the compassion of ordinary Americans.

In Arizona, citizens can, by gathering a sufficient number of signatures, put a proposed law to a direct popular vote. This year, one of the issues on the ballot was an act to prohibit tethering or confining a pregnant pig, or a calf raised for veal, in a manner that prevents the animal from turning around freely, lying down, and fully extending his or her limbs.

Those who know little about modern factory farming may wonder why such legislation would be necessary. Under farming methods that were universal 50 years ago, and that are still common in some countries today, all animals have the space to turn around and stretch their limbs.

Today, however, about 90% of US breeding sows – the mothers of the pigs that are raised and killed for pork, bacon, and ham – spend most of their lives locked in cages that measure about two feet by seven feet (0.6 meters by 2.2 meters). They are unable to turn around, lie down with their legs fully extended, or move more than a step forward or backward. Other sows are kept on short tethers that also prevent them turning around.

Veal calves are similarly confined for all their lives in individual stalls that do not permit them to turn around, lie down, or stretch their limbs. These methods are, essentially, labor-saving devices – they make management of the animals easier and enable units with thousands or tens of thousands of animals to employ fewer and less skilled workers. They also prevent the animals from wasting energy by moving around or fighting with each other.

Several years ago, following protests from animal welfare organizations, the European Union commissioned a report from its Scientific Veterinary Committee on these methods. The committee found that animals suffer from being unable to move freely and from the total lack of anything to do all day. Common sense would, of course, have reached the same conclusion.

Following the report, the EU set dates by which close confinement of these animals would be prohibited. For veal calves, that date, January 1, 2007, is almost here. Individual stalls for sows, already outlawed in the United Kingdom and Sweden, will be banned across the entire EU from 2013. Measures to improve the welfare of laying hens, which are typically kept crammed into bare wire cages with no room to stretch their wings, are also being phased in.

In the US, no such national measures are anywhere in sight. In the past, when my European friends have asked me why the US lags so far behind Europe in matters of animal welfare, I have had no answer. When they pressed me, I had to admit that the explanation could be that Americans care less about animals than Europeans.

Then, in 2002, animal welfare advocates put a proposal to ban sow stalls on the ballot in Florida. To the surprise of many, it gained the approval of 55% of those voting. Last month in Arizona, despite well-funded opposition from agribusiness, the ban on small cages for sows and veal calves also passed, with 62% support.

Neither Florida nor Arizona are particularly progressive states – both voted for George W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004. So the results strongly suggest that if all Americans were given a chance to vote on keeping pregnant pigs and calves in such tight confinement, the majority would vote no. Americans seem to care just as much about animal welfare as Europeans do.

So, to explain the gap between Europe and the US on farm animal welfare, we should look to the political system. In Europe, the concerns of voters about animal welfare have been effective in influencing members of national parliaments, as well as members of the European Parliament, resulting in national legislation and EU directives that respond to those concerns.

In the US, by contrast, similar concerns have had no discernible effect on members of Congress. There is no federal legislation at all on the welfare of farm animals – and very little state legislation, either. That, I believe, is because agribusiness is able to put tens of millions of dollars into the pockets of congressional representatives seeking re-election. The animal welfare movement, despite its broad public support, has been unable to compete in the arena of political lobbying and campaign donations.

In US electoral politics, money counts for more than the opinions of voters. Party discipline is weak, and Congressmen must themselves raise most of the money that they need for re-election – and that happens every two years for members of the House of Representatives. In Europe, where party discipline is strong and the parties, not the individual candidates, finance election campaigns, money plays a smaller role. In the US, a nation that prides itself on its democratic traditions, pigs and calves are hardly the only losers.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2006.

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"je ne sais roi" You

"je ne sais roi"

You appear to be saying:  "I do not know king",  Malcolm B Duncan.

Oh, or is this a French colloquialism, meaning, roughly,  "distinction and nobility"?

Craig R: Zut alors! Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Ha ha ha, Jenny Hume.

Ha ha ha, Jenny Hume.  Lovely stories.

Happy Christmas.

Thankyou, Fiona. If,

Thankyou, Fiona.

If, after meeting me, you thought I was a man, then an apology would be in order, Jenny Hume  .... but, it's not necessary here.  Thanks anyway.

Malcolm B ..(Beauregard?  Bob?  Barney? ) .... Duncan,  a little of "The Good Life"  surely helps to balance quite a lot of "Rumpole".


Malcolm Bruce Duncan has a certain je ne sais roi about it.

B is for bastard

F Kendall, Bruce actually, after dad.

The dilemmas we face and Trevor...

F Kendall, well, if you were Japanese it might be a problem. Group of said folk came to stay at the old family home some years back and mother was short of beds with only one double left. The last two guests were a challenge. Whispered discussion. Were they two men, two women or one of each? Late father decided enough was enough and bolted in and asked them. Mother was mortified.

It pays not to make too many assumptions with strangers. Man and woman turned up at old mum's door looking for a B and B stay. She assumed they were together. Put them in the big double bed. Later got a lovely letter saying what a good night it was, but then added they had only met on her doorstep that day. Then there were the two Yanks, married but refused to sleep together, so mother, never lost for an idea and with only one double left, asked if they would settle for a bolster down the middle. Fun days, all gone now. Off to dry old Goulburn for Chrissy now so cheers and over and out.

Sorry Trevor. No ideas about the sausage maker, but thanks for the tips! All sounds like hard work though.

Guilt Free Bacon And Free Range Eggs

"You can also buy a soya bean product called 'not bacon' in rashers and I defy anyone to tell me that it tastes any different from bacon. And try those soya hot dog and curry sausages on the next barbie. They beat that greasy beef sausage anyday."

I have never seen these products. Where?

Not bacon and the art of living simply

Geoff, to date I have only found the products in the big supermarkets. Woolies and Coles stock them along with a few other vegetarian things like savoury tofu squares and chick pea burgers. The tofu sausages, currry, hot dog and traditional come in packets of six and the not bacon in small rashers of about 10. There are some smaller savoury sausages that I do not care for so much and I don't like their tofu mince.

As the nearest Woolies is about 140 Kms from us I buy a store of them and divide and freeze them and that does not seem to affect them.

In the Woolies I go to they are always in the cool goods section near the mixed small goods and the margarine but they are easy to miss, so just ask. It is only a very small section. All the stuff is pre-cooked so you only have to heat it, but it is best fried till it is brown I find, just like any sausage or bacon or burger.

Let me know if you find them and what you think. Other vegetarian stuff is in the freezer section, such as cheese triangles,.  I tend to live on the tofu sausages but when I do cook I make curried veggies, red bean based spagetti bolonaise or cheese based dishes. I am a lazy cook and often too tired to bother with the multitude of really nice vegetarian recipes so I will often make a big veggie curry and live on it till it runs out. It it came to the pinch I could live on cereals and porridge and when on my own do just that. I learmt to live simply in Pakistan when the Australian government forgot to pay my scholarship living allowance for ten months, so I live on boiled eggs and fried local veggies and tinned porridge for all that time. As there was no refrigeration in the girls's hostel I was in you could not keep meat. Being a farm girl the first Urdu phrase I learnt was ander kharab, ie the eggs are bad. I remember rattling one in the ear of a shop keeper once, to his dismay, as it broke.

Such is the simple life. Happy eating. And Fiona, yes, for me and you at least, metaphorically speaking! New Year resolutions? I've given up the butter, but the sugar, now that is a hard one.

Free-range soy

A friend is looking for a domestic sausage-stuffing appliance, for making meat-less savs. If anyone knows of a supplier (price less than $200) please drop a note.

Here's a quick and easy non-meat burger alternative for bachelors. Felafel mix (NSM Foods brand) 100g (half packet) and TVP Soy Mince (Sanitarium brand) 75g (half packet) made up as per instructions. Mix together, add 2 eggs. Chuck in handful of crushed/blended walnuts, and other old faithfuls like fried chopped onion. Add fluid (water, milk) and/or plain flour to a dough that is stiff enough to stay on a tablespoon. Spoon it into the frying-pan, flatten each dollop to 1-2 cm thickness. Turn when that side browned and edges cooked. Makes about 12 pancakes that can be eaten cold, on the run, or heated up as the base for non-meat meal with the usual veges.

I'm female

I'm female,  (in this incarnation, anyway),  Mrs Hume.

The real F Kendall

Felicity, I just knew it was you.   Brill acting but please spare us any further episodes of The Good Life.

My apologies F Kendall

My apologies F Kendall. As for me, I will pass on Mrs Hume. I am married to Webdiarist Ian Macdougall but I am not sure we want to be confused too often with each other here! So...here I am, a maiden again.  Cheers. And nice to know there is another woman around here. We are rather thin on the ground at times.


I take it, Jenny, that your choice of adjective was metaphorical rather than literal.

Felicitations, F Kendall - lovely to see you on Webdiary again.

Free-range bacon

I think that it's Castlemaine that produces a free-range bacon.

Oh yes, Jenny Hume: boiled rice with milk and sugar! I recall that those from less informed households ate macaroni the same way.

Pass the sugar, not the salt and thanks Mr Kendall.

Thanks Mr Kendall, and I hope Mr is right! And I also hope people will look for the free range bacon if they must eat it, and keep asking for it at the supermarkets.

Milk and sugar on macaroni you say! Now at that even I would draw the line, in the same way as I draw the line at putting salt on the old rock melon (or cantelope if you are a pedant) as the Yanks we have to stay insist on doing.  Everyone should know it should only have sugar and cream. Salt if you please!

My brother and I have a habit of boiling too much rice for the curry or whatever, just so we can indulge in that little dessert treat with the remainder. I remember the day I first encountered boiled rice and milk and sugar. It was during WW 2 when my mother managed to swap some tea ration tickets for this new stuff we had never heard of and never tasted - rice. She told us she had a treat for dessert that night and I was hanging around her skirts wanting to see what it was she had boiling on the stove. She picked me up and held me over it,  and like all kids at something new I said: Ooooh. I won't like that! But my words were cut off when I suddenly smelt it, and to this day I have never forgotten how nice that smell of boiling rice was. When I cook it I get transported back to that moment. That was the day all of us were won over to boiled rice with milk and sugar!  Merry Christmas to you.

David C: Hi Jenny, my mum still makes a mean rice pudding - I loved it as a kid. 

Some things cannot be messed with

I suspect Craig's mum will sensibly not experiment with her tried and true recipe. A good torte is a treat and not to be messed with.

There are some things, gelatine aside, which cannot be replaced.... real butter is one, real cream is another (none of this lite stuff) and real cheese. Fortunately, these days, it is very easy to buy organic butter, cream, milk and cheese which means that it has come from contented animals living a natural life.

And the same goes for organic meat of all kinds. It might take a bit more effort but is easily procured and the flavour says it all. I am sure as well such foods contain far greater nutrients and positive 'energies' with which to nourish those who consume them.

Then again, to each their own. The important thing is to enjoy what you eat, whatever it might be. My time in India taught me that human beings are perfectly capable of living long and even healthy lives without the four or five food groups .... I suspect, as the Indian gurus attest, it is not so much what you eat but what you believe about it.

Leftovers scavenged from the gutter will nourish you if you believe they are 'life-saving,' which they are.

But in the best of worlds we would have contented animals and contented carrots and a great appreciation for that which we eat instead of seeing it as fuel to be consumed quickly and without appreciation.

Then again, some people have more tastebuds than others. Of that I am convinced or they would never be able to drink tea-bag tea which reeks of paper and, if not organic, the chlorine used to make the paper.

Merry Christmas all the same, whatever may be on your table.


Merry Christmas to you too, Jenny. A little bit of Googling and I find that a lab-produced synthetic rennin/rennet is also available these days to coagulate milk in cheese making. So it should be possible for Craig's mum to source a curd cheese somewhere that is vegetarian-approved for the torte if it contains cheese too.

So that's a torte. I can beat that.

Well now. I have googled torte and I know now what it is. Some things never made it to the bush kitchens you know. We lived on mum's apple or lemon meringue pies, custard tarts, steam puds, apple crumble and not forgetting the bread and butter pudding and the lemon sago and tapioca. Tortes never graced our table and I do declare I have never made a cake in my entire life, except one of those packet things which even the dumbest cook can handle. I'm for the simple life. Hazelnut torte indeed!

Now Craig for the real tucker. Our favourite was the dessert from heaven. Boiled rice with milk and sugar. Nothing beats it. And I'll bet your old mum knows that!


Sidesplitting legal humour

No, Jenny Hume, tort is law-french and means a civil wrong (as opposed to criminal).   Under no circumstances should you beat anything as that is the tort of assault (as well as being a crime in certain circumstances).    The old joke is a very old case going back to the 18th Century where someone was charged with assault for laying his hand on the hilt of his sword and  saying to another swashbuckler:

"Were this not assize time [the time at which the Court was on circuit and sitting to try cases in the particular town] I would run you through." 

He was found not liable because the treat was conditional.    That's why we lawyers always preface threats of violence by saying "Were this not assize time..."

I guess we just can't help being party animals. 


So Malcom B Duncan, if a Mexican hits a Frenchman over the head with his torte he could be up for the tort of assault you say.  About the same charge I guess I would be up for if I hit you over the head with the collected works of that tortuous english poet you are so fond of quoting. But I should be OK. I would plead mitigating circumstances on the grounds of mental torture. Might leave you with a sore head though.

Well folks, I think I will just pass on the tortes and stick with the boiled rice drowned in milk and sugar. As I said, pure heaven.  Then again, spotted dick drowned in milk and sugar is a tad better. And that is not an invitation for you blokes to start, so forget it!

Mirror, mirror

"Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;

The Proper study of Mankind is Man."

Pope, "An Essay on Man Epistle II" lines 1-2 The Poems of Alexander Pope Ed Butt J, Methuen & Co London 1963 [the Twickenham Edition].

That tortuous English poet Jenny Hume?

 Happy Hogmanay.

Not from the grand old masters....

Just give me the simple and heartfelt lay Malcolm and I can probably cope.

I guess as a lawyer you would agree with Pope:

What mighty contests rise from trivial things.  (Rape of the Lock)

Happy Hogmanay to you too sir. 

And David Curry, the same to you.

Aghast or agar agar

Craig,  fear not, if your mother's recipe derives from Europe there will be no gelatine in it. If it is American there might be and you can put her on to Agar Agar, a vegetarian equivalent.

Jenny,  while I am completely on your side in regard to doing everything one can to prevent cruelty to animals, do you really believe that we need a world where no animals are killed? A world without leather for instance?

It seems to me the issue is how the animals live and die rather than whether we eat them or wear them. It would be impossible to create a world without animals used in these ways but it is certainly possible to create a world where the lives they live are as comfortable as possible and the deaths they die are as quick and painless as possible.

I think too we need to differentiate between cruelty toward animals by either omission or comission and levels of 'pain' which animals might suffer for their own good in the same way that human children do. I mean, tagging animals, even 'tailing' lambs (the diseases they can get in certain climates without this procedure are ghastly) are akin to vaccinating our children, and subjecting them to a variety of dental and medical procedures for their own good, but which range from uncomfortable to painful.

And if you do believe in a world where no animal is killed for food or function then how do we manage herds? If animals are not killed by other animals or starved to death in droughts .... both painful experiences I am sure .... then how do we deal with the population explosion which must occur?

Ignore all these questions if you do not subscribe to a world which does not farm animals for any reason at all.  

Law of tortes

Craig, your mum's dessert might contain gelatine or rennin (enzyme used in cheese-making derived, I believe, from the stomachs of calves).

So that we can check whether mistreatment of animals has occured or not, I suggest you publish the recipe!  ;)

Craig R: Ohhh noooo ... and sorry, but no (it's not mine to publish Robyn).

Hi Robyn. And Craig, take the kids to that film.

Robyn, hi and a happy Christmas to you.  Gelatine is actually made from boiling down the cartilage, skin, tendons and bones, including hooves. Roslyn is right, agar agar is a non animal substitute.

Now Roslyn. I will answer your questions but later. I could tell enough about the slaughter of pigs that would put you all off your bacon for life. But I will desist in the interests of those who have already invested heavily in their Chrissy ham. Enough is enough. But stand by.....I will be back next year! 

It was actually over the pigs that I stopped eating meat 20 years ago. I was about to eat some lovely smoked ham and the other half had just come from the abattoir where he had been getting specimens for his science classes. He started telling me what I did not want to hear but I listened anyway. Result? I tossed my ham onto his plate and told him: Right. That's it. You eat it and enjoy it, because that is the last time I will ever bring pig meat into this house, and I will never eat it again, in fact I will never eat meat again. End of story. See, it's all Ian Macdougall's fault really. 

Now Craig. Take the kids to see Charlotte's Web in the full knowledge that the little pigs in the film were trained and acted under the close eye of animal liberationalists and have gone to good homes. The film company liaised closely and was very concerned that they come to no harm.  So let the kids enjoy. It is a lovely film.

Craig R: And filmed in my neighbourhood, Jenny. 

PS:  Never had a torte in me life.  Is it better than the sago plum pud? Hell I still don't know what it is. I will check out Richard's links and educate myself on the subject of tortes. 


I'm sorry to be bearer of bad tidings, Craig, but the odds aren't great.

Also, it would seem that Christmas dinner is no longer a trifling matter

My daughter wants to know how the calves cope without feet... do I destroy her love of schnitzel? 

Craig R: I could put "Start an Inedia diet" on the NY resolution list, but I'm no saint and resolutions I make I tend to break fast.

We lag too. So try "not bacon" for a change

It is not just the US that lags behind on animal welfare issues. Read what Singer says here about the sow stalls and remember that the ham you buy this Christmas, and the bacon you buy throughout the year has come from animals that suffer the same enormous deprivation in this country. We managed to get tethering banned - i.e. the chain that tied the caged pig to the bar in front - totally barbaric and unncessary given their total confinement anyway! - and which often was found to be cut deep in their necks - but the stalls remain.

Vote against this cruel practice with your pockets this Christmas and throughout the year, and if you must have your ham, then please demand at your supermarket to know why they do not stock free range pig meat. That is the least one can do and over time it will make a difference. 

You can also buy a soya bean product called "not bacon" in rashers and I defy anyone to tell me that it tastes any different from bacon. And try those soya hot dog and curry sausages on the next barbie. They beat that greasy beef sausage anyday.

Craig R: I'm now thinking of skipping Christmas main meals altogether and eating only the desserts, Jenny.  Is there likely to be any cruelty involved in the supply-chain leading to my mum's very yum Hazelnut Torte?

There there Craig

Craig, there there now. Far be it for me to be a part pooper. Hasten slowly lest your family think you have lost your marbles. But you got me thinking. As you tuck into the hazelnut torte, (what the hell is that anyway?) think about all those poor little bugs that likely got sprayed with poison on the hazelnut trees!  Now with good grace I will flee the scene.  Forget all I wrote, for a day anyway. If it is already in the fridge then tuck in and enjoy the lot I say.   Cheers.

Oh but, just in passing, give a thought for the source of the gelatine that thickens the sauce on the hazelnut torte.  Tell me the source of the sauce on the hazelnut  torte. There, a new yuletide jingle. The source? Melted down baby calves feet. OK Ok!  I'm going. 

Craig R: Arrrrghhhh ... cute baby calves ... their little feet ... melted ... to make gelatine, the stuff in the Aeroplane Jelly we've let our 3-year old eat as a treat?  Nooooooo!!! 

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