Thu, Jul 19, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Is cruelty OK when we don't witness it?

By Celia Llopis-Jepsen

Last week a Chiayi restaurant caused a stir when it added a Sichuan dish to the menu that involves frying and serving live fish. Criticism was so sharp that the owner removed the dish from the menu. One customer had been so disturbed that he reported the restaurant to the authorities.

I appreciate that yinyang fish has caused such an outcry. But it is disappointing if human compassion only goes as far as cruelty that occurs in front of our eyes.

A friend of mine visited a zoo in the US and was horrified when she saw a young woman reach into a peacock cage and rip a feather out of a bird's tail. My friend, deeply upset, then realized the woman intended to yank another feather. She went up behind her as she waited for the hapless creature to wander within reach again. As the woman leaned further in to tug another feather, my friend took a firm grip of the woman's hair and gave it an unforgettable yank that left the feather-collector so mortified she ran from the scene without a word.

This same friend, passionate enough to pull a complete stranger's hair, has told me that she knows livestock are mistreated where she lives in the US, but that she doesn't want to know the details -- because then she won't be able to eat meat.

I take issue with her decision. Much worse abuse is occurring at industrialized farms, and we must be accountable for the behavior we support by funding those farms when we purchase their products. When a tornado hit a chicken farm in the US a few years ago, tens of thousands of chickens were left to starve to death in their cages because the corporation that owned it decided it wasn't cost-efficient to retrieve them from their cages, put them out of their misery or move them to another location. The case was well-documented by the Farm Sanctuary, a US-based non-governmental organization, and filmmakers.

Routine abuse of livestock is also well-documented. Cattle are beaten -- to the point any normal person would call sadistic -- simply for not moving fast enough from a transport vehicle to a pen. At egg farms, producing hens to lay eggs is part of the job, which entails allowing part of the eggs produced to hatch. Unfortunately, half of the hatched chicks are of the wrong sex. A large-scale chicken farm tosses out hundreds of male chicks per day, often throwing them live into huge garbage bins, where they are left to gradually suffocate as more chicks land on top.

As for cruelty to fish -- the topic of the day -- once they are pulled from the water, fish are often not killed on the spot to relieve them of suffering. They are left in piles to slowly asphyxiate, which can take up to four hours. In the UK, some fish farmers have called for change, calling it unacceptable to let tens of millions of fish suffocate each year.

This isn't necessarily an argument for veganism. Not everyone believes killing animals is wrong, but as society has reached a broad consensus that certain treatment constitutes cruelty, we should boycott livestock handlers who abuse animals and legislate standards that protect the dignity of animals.

Kudos to those whose complaints led this Chiayi restaurant to stop frying live fish. But it is irrational if the shock and outrage ends there. Try looking at how Taiwan's livestock are treated.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a writer based in Taipei.

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