Meat is not murder

July 28th, 2014 atam Posted in Animal welfare, Food No Comments »

Animal rights activists have it so wrong. In an increasingly urbanised world where the only animals people see in the concrete jungle are dogs in prams, where people spend all day shooting birds and killing avatars on their smartphones, compassion is in seriously short supply.

However, if you tell them meat is suicide, well, then everything changes. Just look at the number of people at MacDonald’s over the weekend. For years animal rights activists have protested against cruel methods used to raise factory chickens supplied to another fast food chain but hardly made a dent in the chain’s bottom line. Now people just have to think about all the expired meat they’ve put in themselves to realise that, eek, this is not exactly healthy is it?

The next challenge is to get them to finally realise that meat is not unhealthy only when it’s passed its expiry date; it’s unhealthy, full stop. Think about all the antibiotics and polluted feed that go into the animals. If people find the idea of drinking “reclaimed water” disgusting, even though the water has undergone treatment to get rid of all bacteria and pollutants, how come they find it OK to eat meat that’s processed in dubious conditions, from animals that are raised in unhealthy and unhygienic conditions?


December 11th, 2013 atam Posted in Animal welfare No Comments »

Here’s a documentary about a captive orca whale that killed a trainer at Seaworld in Orlando, Florida, in the US. If anyone’s going to make any kind of connection between the suffering of this whale and the suffering of captive marine animals in general, you know who we’re going to hear from.

Dolphins and sharks may not be as big as whales but if you compare their natural range with what they get to swim in within the confines of a theme park pool, it’s not hard to imagine they too suffer from the same psychosis.

The recent death of six hammerhead sharks at Ocean Park was put down to a problem with an ozone machine, but not everyone was convinced that was the real cause. And what about the way marine animals were captured, for breeding and to entertain? Seaworld justified the capture of marine animals in the name of “education” and “conservation”. Does that sound familiar?

Ocean Park’s honesty

July 26th, 2013 atam Posted in Animal welfare 1 Comment »

Thank you Ocean Park for being honest about the mistreatment of marine animals.

Responding to an animal welfare group’s claim that a survey showed the majority of people wanted it to stop using dolphins to entertain visitors, a park spokesperon said: “The survey was conducted by the group’s own website. Participants are those who support animal rights. The results do not represent the majority of public opinion.”

So, Ocean Park has admitted it caters to those who do not respect animal rights.

Respect for animal rights usually mirrors the development of a society. As a society becomes more advanced and educated, people become more aware of the suffering of other living beings and start to demand an end to animal cruelty. That is why people in China are demanding an end to dog eating in the country and people in Hong Kong, having learnt what happens to the sharks caught for their fins, want to put an end to the shark’s fin trade.

Those who stand to profit from such abuse typically use one of two methods to get around the objections of those who care about animal welfare. The first one is culture. It’s been part of French tradition to force-feed geese to make foie gras and part of Japanese tradition to slaughter dolphins, so it’s all right!

The second method is more subtle. You make a show of treating the animals humanely. You don’t skin them, club them or put them in tiny cages and insert needles into them to extract bile. You just put them under permanent house arrest, but you show the world the house is very nicely decorated and, hey, the animals can’t talk, so they can’t tell those who are concerned that they’re bored out of their brains and wish they knew how they could kill themselves. Oh, and of course they get put through routines that are unnatural to them, to entertain people. And they’d better do it, or they won’t get fed.

Both methods work nicely; you just keep the cruelty out of the media spotlight or dress it up as something that’s perfectly humane. And many people – the majority – do buy it. Living in a concrete jungle, they haven’t had much interaction with animals and don’t know any better. Which makes them perfect customers who justify acts of cruelty dressed up as entertainment.

Wonder how climate change comes about?

May 27th, 2013 atam Posted in Animal welfare, Climate change, Earth, Greenwash No Comments »

Doing some marketing for his employer, Ocean Park polar curator Philip Wong told the press recently that the polar programme at the theme park carries an environmental message about climate change.

Yeah right.

One wonders how much electricity is consumed by the park, which also boasts a “carbon management” plan, to maintain a sufficiently cold environment for the polar animals it keeps on display, and therefore how much greenhouse gases is emitted as a direct result of the park holding a bunch of penguins and seals captive in sub-tropical Hong Kong.

The icebergs sure are melting, but they wouldn’t melt quite so fast if we’re not pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in the name of entertainment – oh sorry, that’s supposed to read “educating the public on the effects of climate change”.

Help stray cats

May 17th, 2013 atam Posted in Animal welfare 2 Comments »

Once upon a time, when I was small, I woke up in bed to find a rat approaching my hand. I flicked it off the bed, ran out to tell my parents, only to find a commotion in the kitchen, where this menace’s cousins and friends were having a party and driving the humans there crazy.

We were not the only household in that building to suffer the invasion though, and after complaints from several families the caretaker brought back a few cats that were given the job of patrolling the ground floor area in return for food. They did such a good job that, for added insurance, my family adopted a tabby to man our flat too.

Ordinary, local cats are extremely good at pest control, as many a food shop or stall owner would tell you. Some are so good at their job, and so lucky to be adopted by dried seafood shops, that they are regularly rewarded with bites of conpoy of the most expensive variety.

But there are far more unlucky ones than lucky ones. They live in rundown areas where food is scarce and they are subject to abuse all the time. The SPCA and its volunteers run the Cat Colony Care Programme – essentially a trap, neuter, release programme – to keep their numbers down so they do not cause a nusiance nor become a burden on the dedicated carers who feed them everyday.

Learn more about the programme and help these cats, by clicking on the cat image to the right to purchase the book and/or make a donation. Think about adopting a cat too.

Animals are not a utility

April 5th, 2013 atam Posted in Animal welfare, Climate change, Earth, Food No Comments »

Bird flu, swine flu, mad cow disease….

What’s the solution then? More culling of innocent animals bred in horrendous conditions just to meet the global demand for meat?

Whenever it is suggested that we should eat less meat if not forgo it altogether, some clever soul would point out that our ancestors were hunter-gatherers who ate a mix of meat and plants. Well yes. They had to hunt or search for days on end, either for half-eaten carcasses left by other animals, or animals that they could kill themselves. They did not eat animals everyday, at every meal.

Today we are eating meat on such a scale that we’ve forgotten that animals are living beings and not manufactured goods that can be turned out on a production line. Infectious diseases spread rapidly in cities because of the density of urban populations, which makes it so easy for viruses to jump from one person to another. For the luckier ones who don’t have to live 20 to a tiny room, there are at least walls to act as barriers between neighbours. No such luck for the animals bred for human consumption. They are packed in close quarters at factory farms where viruses happily cross from one victim to another, quickly mutating in the process.

To turn a quicker profit, these animals are fed anything from antibiotics to steroids so they can grow faster, leaner, whatever.

When are we going to learn that animals are not a utility there to satisfy our unhealthy obsession with meaty diets? They are part of the ecosystem, not a factory product. Permaculture recognises this; that’s why, instead of promoting vegetarianism, its idea is to develop farming methods that respect the way nature works. Chickens eat the worms on the vegetables patch, their droppings going to fertilise the soil and feeding the fish in the pond so that a balance of animal protein and vegetables can be harvested. The chickens can roam around, the vegetables are grown organically and the soil is not degraded by artificial fertilisers.

Instead, we are making ourselves sick eating too much meat while the planet runs out of resources. Someone’s making lots of money though, from pushing meat products produced in conditions that are conducive to disease.

Mayan wisdom

December 14th, 2012 atam Posted in Animal welfare, Climate change, Earth, General, Peak oil No Comments »

Maybe the scientists overlooked the gigantic black hole that will gobble up the entire galaxy on December 21.

Or maybe not.

Perhaps the world won’t come to a dramatic end on the day. Still, the Mayans are on to something. Perhaps they foresaw how the inverse relationship between the state of the planet and the state of the stock markets will reach a turning point on that day, beyond which there will be no hope of avoiding a collapse.

Isn’t it funny? Back in 2009 all the talk was Copenhagen and a new climate change agreement. Three years later, the new Rio summit came and went, followed by another round of climate change talks, this time in Doha, and nobody noticed. Quietly, the negotiators agreed to disagree and meekly extended the Kyoto Protocol for another eight years.

China has hundreds of new coal-fired power plants planned and is not about to ditch them, whatever WWF says in its latest China Ecological Footprint Report, which shows that most of the country’s in an ecological deficit. Not to be outdone, the UK has just approved fracking, which releases huge amounts of methane – a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – directly into the atmosphere.

All in the name of energy security.

And if we look at the inverse relationship I talked about earlier, you’ll see why a collapse is inevitable. The market cheers when stock prices go up, so when the stock price of a petroleum company goes up, analysts flag the stock as a “buy” and investors look forward to a nice return. Never mind that the rise in its stock price is due to a rise in fuel prices that has made ordinary folks suffer. There was dismay when the Deepwater Horizon tragedy occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, but not because of the loss of lives or environmental damage; rather, it was because the stock price of BP sank in anticipation of the compensation for which it became liable, directly impacting on the billions of pension funds invested in it.

Think about it: retirement funds are invested in businesses that hurt the environment or the community, be it a coal mining firm or a real estate trust that gets its return on hiking rent and driving out small retailers. Someone’s secure retirement is predicated on someone else’s suffering.

To really address global warming would mean stopping the growth model in its tracks and shutting down huge numbers of corporations whose very existence threaten the planet’s survival. It just won’t be done. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published way back in 1962; 50 years later, Hong Kong still approves the use of the deadly herbicide paraquat, which has accounted for several canine deaths.

There’s a magazine with a regular interview with thoughtful people in the Q&A format. One standard question is “Are we all doomed?” and nearly 90% of interviewees say “no”, which just shows you what capacity for denial we have.

Maybe the Mayans wasn’t predicting the end of the world; maybe their calendar simply ended because their own civilisation collapsed. “Their attention was evidently focused on their short-term concerns of enriching themselves, waging wars, erecting monuments, competing with each other, and extracting enough food from the peasants to support all those activities. Like most leaders throughout human history, the Maya kings and nobles did not heed long-term problems,” Jared Diamond wrote in his book Collapse. Now it’s our turn.

So let’s go low-carbon…

November 20th, 2012 atam Posted in Animal welfare, Climate change, Earth, Greenwash No Comments »

Ocean Butcher Co has announced that its shark-finning fleet has become one of the most low-carbon in the world.

It has replaced aged vessels with new ones made with a combination of salvaged wood and recycled plastic. At the same time, it has switched to low-sulphur fuel, with older but still serviceable vessels retrofitted with new, cleaner-burning engines at a cost of US$2 million. New vessels are delivered with more energy-efficient engines as standard.

These efforts are estimated to reduce the fleet’s carbon emissions by 400 tonnes a year and also substantially reduce the level of respirable particulates generated. Ocean Butcher’s fleet is now not only more environmentally-friendly, it is also more efficient: sharks caught and fins cut by the fleet have increased 20% year-on-year, boosting the company’s profit to US$300 million.

If the above satire seems absurd and outrageous, why isn’t Ocean Park’s latest announcement concerning its becoming “the world’s first low-carbon emissions theme park”?

Marine animals confined to small pools and trained to perform unnatural acts to entertain park visitors, which have probably gone crazy from a life of captivity following human-imposed routines, have apparently been treated to more energy-efficient life support systems. Their environment is now as highly regulated as their lives, with the flow of every breath of fresh air and every drop of water monitored by computer. The wonders of technology!

The society of the spectacle

April 16th, 2012 atam Posted in Animal welfare, Climate change, Culture, Earth, General No Comments »

So have you managed to catch a glimpse of Lyuba?

Funny how the mummified body of a baby mammoth (which, by the way, isn’t the latest art work by Damien Hirst. How he must be kicking himself for not getting hold of it, encrusting it with diamonds then selling it on for gazillion dollars) that lived on the icy tundra of the Arctic 40,000 years ago should become entertainment for an iPhone-camera crowd jostling for a picture in the icily air-conditioned atrium of the IFC.

Funny also how the real animals in our countryside – and even in the urban areas – don’t catch our eyes; and if they do, more often than not receive complaints for getting in our way. Somehow, animals are fine as long as they’re exotic or dead, kept well away from us and don’t remind us that we share a common habitat by the name of Earth.

There’s a lesson in Lyuba’s world tour as well as an irony. The lesson is that Lyuba’s discovery was only possible because of melting ice, an effect of global warming. The irony is that while people don’t like animals that they consider to have encroached on their habitat, rather than the other way round; they will fall over each other to see one that’s long dead or those that should be left alone rather than be disturbed by coach-loads of tourists – like the real elephants in wildlife reserves. Animals don’t exist to provide entertainment for humans; they exist as vital links in our common ecosystem, and we forget at our own peril.

The excitement generated by Lyuba’s exhibition at the IFC is a perfect reflection of what French social theorist Guy Debord called “the society of the spectacle” (la société du spectacle). In his collection of aphorisms of the same name, he drew attention to the way in which everything in a consumerist society became commodified for the purpose of consumption.

“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation,” he wrote. “The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished. Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation.”

We live our lives through the images and narratives provided by spectacles such as Lyuba, soap operas and advertisements to such an extent that the real lives that we can live, in which we interact with the world around us, weaving our own narratives, is deemed too real. We get our hands dirty; we sweat and afterwards there may not even be a nice shower awaiting us at a five-star hotel or someone to wash up the resulting laundry for us. So let’s set reality aside and settle for something thoroughly sanitised and objectified – a dead animal from some mysterious past, kept well away from us in a perspex case that can be viewed in the air-conditioned comfort of a shopping mall.

What’s your beef?

April 14th, 2012 atam Posted in Animal welfare, Climate change, Earth, Food, General No Comments »

Do you eat meat? Which one of the following reasons persuaded/would persuade you to give it up?

  1. Climate change. Methane and nitrous oxide produced by livestock are far more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide.
  2. Animal welfare. Factory-farmed animals are kept and slaughtered in inhumane ways.
  3. Health. Excessive meat consumption has been associated with a variety of diseases, including heart disease and cancer, and that’s not taking into account the effects of the steroids and antibiotics farmers use to make the animals grow bigger faster.
  4. Price.

The news that a group of scientists have concluded that the developed world needs to cut its meat consumption by 50% per person by 2050 if we are to limit the effects of climate change made me laugh, not because it’s implausible, but because this stance just doesn’t push the right buttons with people.

Some animal lovers will give up meat because they can’t stand the cruelty perpetrated by the meat industry, but somehow even with this group framing the issue in terms of planetary rather than animal welfare would lessen its impact.

As for those who don’t even care enough about their health to cut back on their meat consumption, there is little to be done – unless governments wake up to the healthcare cost of excessive meat intake.

Which leaves price. Suppliers have just raised the price of beef in Hong Kong and restaurants are complaining about the risk of losing customers if they pass on the increase. From the other three perspectives though, that would be just what we need. In fact, the increase hardly reflects all the costs involved in meat production but which has been externalised – loss of farmland to the production of feed rather than crops for human consumption; loss of forest cover to make way for more farms to grow feed; increasing bacterial immunity to antibiotics because of their abuse by the industry, etc etc.

How expensive does meat have to get for consumers to be put off though? The problem is, meat consumption typically rises with rising affluence, so while low-income groups in developed countries may cut back as prices increase, the better-off will most likely carry on chomping down the steaks unless gout strikes or an angioplasty finally wakes them up.