Mark Bittman Asks: Why Don't Farm Animals Get the Same Respect (Or Treatment) as Pets?

baby pig farm photo
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Image: REL Waldman via flickr

We've seen devastating footage from inside slaughterhouses before, but I was caught by surprise when a former colleague thought aloud on Facebook about giving up pork because pigs are intelligent and sentient beings. He's from Texas, is not vegetarian, and loves his bacon, but he'd watched a recent video that Mercy For Animals put out showing a behind-the-scenes look at Smithfield facilities, and the cruelty was too much to handle.

About a week later, Mark Bittman published a column, Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others, that raises similar questions about the treatment of animals raised for food. Bittman questions why some animals are protected by anti-cruelty laws while animals raised for food fall under "Common Farming Exemptions," which, he writes:

allow industry -- rather than lawmakers -- to make any practice legal as long as it's common. "In other words," as Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of "Eating Animals," wrote me via e-mail, "the industry has the power to define cruelty. It's every bit as crazy as giving burglars the power to define trespassing."

The column is really worth reading in full, but he highlights the irony and cruelty of the laws:

as long as I "raise" animals for food and it's done by my fellow "farmers" (in this case, manufacturers might be a better word), I can put around 200 million male chicks a year through grinders (graphic video here), castrate -- mostly without anesthetic -- 65 million calves and piglets a year, breed sick animals (don't forget: more than half a billion eggs were recalled last summer, from just two Iowa farms) who in turn breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria...

And he gets to the crux of the bigger picture:

We should be treating animals better and raising fewer of them; this would naturally reduce our consumption. All in all, a better situation for us, the animals, the world.

Here is the video that the Facebook friend mentioned above had linked to:

...although proposed legislation in at least two states, Iowa and Florida, would make it a crime—in Florida a first-degree felony—to take photographs at a farm.