A recent report published by the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan showed that inhumane animal slaughter is still prevalent in the country's meat markets. A film that formed part of the report showed slaughterhouses where panicked live hogs are hung head down before having their throats cut.
The electronic media, however, seems to have taken a low-key approach to the news and has refrained from broadcasting the more disturbing footage.
Relevant debate, meanwhile, was scarce in the print media. As a result, the story had one day of exposure before quickly vanishing from public view.
A pessimistic conclusion is that without media coverage the inhumane treatment of animals is likely to continue.
Why is the public reaction so pragmatic? Don't people care that the pork they eat may have been cruelly slaughtered at a dirty abattoir or that the pigs suffered? It is impossible for a majority to remain unaffected after seeing the cruel treatment exposed in the film.
The reason people brush this report aside is that their next meal may well include pork and they will still have no clue how the animals were treated.
As a result, people tend to remain silent and regard the matter as a necessary evil. People may very well imagine that since the animals will be slaughtered anyway, humane treatment is not importanty.
Furthermore, we use animals for so many things that it would be difficult to justify the "selective mercy" for pigs and not for other animals.
If we turn it around, however, comprehensive mercy toward animals is such an absurdity in today's human-centered societies that, given the choice, we should choose to be more humane.
The adoption of a "friendly agriculture" that takes a humane approach to slaughter is a good way to begin.
Since hogs are a food animal, their treatment might not be comparable to the treatment of companion animals, but since they do feel pain and it is quite impossible that mankind will stop eating meat, ensuring humane slaughter should be a basic requirement.
English utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham had a profound impact on animal welfare by arguing that the question was not whether animals can reason or talk, but whether they can suffer.
The implication is the hope that humans will prevent animals from suffering unnecessarily.
Later, the French deconstructionist Jacques Derrida reinterpreted the issue of suffering.
He argued that the biggest difference between the question of whether animals can suffer and other questions such as if they are capable of thought, communication, reasoning and so on is that suffering is not a matter of ability, but rather a possibility of helplessness and a weakness resulting from powerlessness.
Posing anthropocentric questions about animals having human skills suggests that we only have to treat them humanely if they possess human abilities.
When we ask if animals can suffer, we are talking about quite a different kind of capability. This approach implies that human beings, just like animals, are sometimes physically vulnerable, weak, powerless and forced to suffer passively.
Derrida said that this shared capability to suffer should be the connecting point between human beings and animals and the key to human pity.
The same reasoning applies to the slaughter of food animals. When watching news about hogs being cruelly slaughtered, we should ask ourselves if they are suffering.
If the answer is yes, then we should support the idea of humane slaughter, rather than getting excessively defensive about food animals as not having any right to welfare.
Seven years ago, the same animal protection group had filed a lawsuit against inhumane slaughter methods and called on the public to stop consuming pork from animals that are bled to death rather than electrocuted.
Today, investigations have revealed even more cruel mistreatment in abattoirs.
Nothing has changed and this is because we are not willing to face the truth of what is going on in abattoirs.
As a result, only if consumers are willing to imagine the fear and pain of hogs being hung upside down and having their throats cut will they be able to exert their supervisory rights and force the authorities to take a square look at the issue and bring inhumane slaughter practices to an end.
Huang Tsung-huei is an associate professor in the foreign languages and literature department at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Lin Ya-ti
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