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Das Aprilzitat – Abschaffung von Fleisch

7. April 2010

Producers, consumers and citizens

Why should the citizen – by a political demand – be involved in challenging the use of animals for food, rather than leaving the choice to the consumer alone?

Supply and demand

The consumer can choose to abolish meat from her own realm (banish it from her own table), or at least have a care for the living conditions of the animals in the farms that supply the products that she buys. These two attitudes are progressing numerically, but remain very minor. Worldwide, the consumption of animal flesh per inhabitant is progressing rapidly, along with farming methods that least respect animal needs. Thus the prescription “You must not mistreat or kill animals without necessity” is at the same time both widely approved and widely inoperative. From both sides, “supply” and “demand”, factors push towards maintaining and extending the system in place.

Fishing and farming are economic activities which, like any other, have their own growth logic. They are not content to passively respond to a pre-existing demand. Technical evolutions in these sectors have facilitated the conquest of new markets. In a few decades technologies of animal husbandry have created an explosion of production capacities and a prodigious drop in production costs, and there has been a huge development of industrial fishing as well. Moreover, in these sectors the costs as well as the profits of businesses follow rather peculiar rules. Under-valuing of land or water used for agricultural purposes, as well as the absence of responsibility by producers for environmental degradations caused by their activity, lower production costs. In addition, it is frequent that the development potential of a business is not strictly dependent on its income from sales. Indeed, agriculture and fishing are among the most subsidised economic activities. Apart from structural support, public authorities come to the rescue of producers during epizootic diseases or input price rises.

As for the consumers, they consume. Only a minority think about farming conditions when they buy. However, a majority of them say they are concerned about animal welfare. The number of those who say they feel bad about, or disagree with, the killing of animals, is far from negligible. Thus, in a survey co-financed by the French Ministry of Agriculture, disapproval of the killing of animals is expressed by a majority of French people in the case of bullfighting and hunting, and by a significant minority in the case of farm animals or fish. From a sample of 1000 people, the percentage of interviewees who say they “tend to disagree” or “strongly disagree” with the statements quoted is as follows:

  • The idea that you can kill an animal in a bullfight seems normal to you – don’t agree: 88%.
  • It is normal that humans raise animals for their meat – don’t agree: 14%.
  • The idea that you can kill an animal in a hunt seems normal to you – don’t agree: 52%.
  • The idea that you can buy poultry and kill it yourself seems normal to you – don’t agree: 40%.
  • The idea that you can kill an animal by fishing seems normal to you – don’t agree: 39%.

Moreover, 65% of the people interviewed declared that they agree with the following assertion: “You would not wish to be present at the slaughter of animals.”

Words and deeds

Fourteen per cent of the people surveyed declare that they do not find it normal that animals are raised for their meat, whilst they themselves consume the product of the slaughterhouse. That does not make their judgement any less real ; it can be used as leverage for change. This type of contradiction between words and deeds is not unusual. At the present time, a majority of humans express worry about global warming or fossil fuels running out, and sincerely wish for solutions to be found. Only a minute proportion of them take the initiative to significantly change their consumption habits in order to preserve the environment. On the other hand, when policies are put into action in this area, they are generally understood and accepted, even when they involve new constraints.

The explanation for these seemingly contradictory attitudes would entail using much more data than we can explore here. Let’s just mention one direction among others by means of an example.

The moral imperative dictates: “Act as everyone should act in the same circumstances.” To the driver who is caught parking in a space reserved for people with disabilities, and who retorts that this isolated action will not cause much harm, we offer this reproach: “What if everybody acted in the same way as you?”

According to a principle of ordinary behaviour, we should “Behave in awareness of how others behave.”

Respecting parking spaces reserved for disabled people is the option which will be readily chosen in a society where the custom of leaving them free is already established. If on the other hand everyone parks in these spaces, the dominant reflex will be: “Why should I have to go and look for a parking place ten streets away, when this spot will be taken within 30 seconds by another non-disabled driver?” Or else you could simply let yourself be guided by the habit of using these parking spots as ordinary spaces. Only drivers who are most aware of the difficulties of disabled people will not give in to the temptation of discounting the probability (not non-existent) that, for once, it may be a disabled person who occupies the space if they leave it free. Or else, without thinking of the consequences, they would be simply prevented by the uncomfortable feeling produced by the thought of an action which expresses indifference towards vulnerable people. A majority, however, would not be constrained, by their own initiative, to do what they would judge to be right if they were asked to express an opinion on the subject.

Concerning the use of animals for food, the consumption practices in force impose massive mistreatment and slaughter of animals. Standing out from the dominant behaviour in society (and stepping outside one’s own routines) has a cost which, without being terribly high, is not less real. At the same time, it is tempting to reassure oneself on the harmlessness of one’s own inability to act as one should by invoking the fact that this failing is generalised: „How will it help chickens if I don’t buy this particular chicken, when they are produced by hundreds of millions?“ Or else, one goes shopping in the usual way, without questioning anything, buying a chicken like one buys a kilo of carrots. There is little chance of being reminded of one’s duty towards animals by the remark „What if everybody acted like you?“ since everybody is busy doing just that.

Involving the citizen

Let us imagine that people are asked this question: “Do you want to put an end to raising and slaughtering animals?” One could suppose that some of those who claim to disagree with the idea that it is normal to raise animals for their meat would hesitate to participate by their vote in the continuation of livestock farming. And how would those react who confess their uneasiness at the idea of being present at the slaughter of animals, when asked to choose between ending or continuing slaughter? In contrast with choices made at the supermarket, they will no longer be in the role of consumers but in that of citizens, in a position to pass judgment on something that will be imposed on everyone. It is less easy now to avoid conscious reflection on the question asked, and fall back on routine, and impossible to escape from the choice of what one judges to be right by invoking the insignificant weight of our own consumer behaviour, since in this case the decision taken will apply to the whole community. On the contrary, and by this very fact, the fears inspired by the risk of social marginalisation in the case of adoption of a type of consuming different from that of one’s friends and family, no longer apply.

How many humans would demand that the massacre begin again after being interrupted, and after they have reorganised their lives without cutting the throats of animals or suffocating them in order to eat them? If we were in the post-meat period, it is possible that with no more than our current mentalities we would choose not to return. It is, however, also true that it is difficult to make the journey from the age of meat in the other direction.

The project for the abolition of meat wants the animal question to be asked at the citizen level also. That is where the moral imperative has a chance of being less easily buried under routine and easy self-justifications when a bad practice is generalised: the level where one is made to be aware that a reasoned decision has to be taken.

When the question of meat makes its entrance among the subjects debated in the political arena, the public will realise that a time will come when the community will have to choose, and that everyone has a responsibility in this choice. A growing number of people will be encouraged to take sides, to say so, and will feel obliged to justify their judgement. If this process gets under way, the tension will be then felt more strongly in the case of contradiction between the judgement announced and personal behaviour, and the result will be a certain encouragement to reduce it. If a growing number of people openly express the previously unexpressed position “I do not find it normal that humans raise (or fish) animals for their meat”, there will be more people who will limit or eliminate their consumption of animals. The exemplary nature of such attitudes will become more obvious if the debate “for or against the abolition of meat” has succeeded in making a place for itself in political life. The choice of these consumers will be clearly understood as a boycott and not as the expression of some particular orientation in the matter of dietetics or gastronomy. The increasing number of people who combine words and actions will strengthen the credibility of an evolution towards meat abolition. A development of the attitude of passive consent to abolition will also result: that of people who, without taking the initiative of changing their individual behaviour, will be ready to admit that the measure is good or acceptable once it is adopted.

The evolution of citizens’ proclaimed beliefs and of their consumer behaviour will reinforce each other.

Estiva Reus, Antoine Comiti, translated from French by Jane Hendy.

From → Strategie, Zitate

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