[Age - opinion]
To any thinking person, it must be obvious that there is something
badly wrong in relations between human beings and the animals that
human beings rely on for food; and that in the past 100 or 150 years
whatever is wrong has become wrong on a huge scale, as traditional
animal husbandry has been turned into an industry using industrial
methods of production.
There are many other ways in which our relations to animals are wrong
(to name two: the fur trade, experimentation on animals in
laboratories), but the food industry, which turns living animals into
what it euphemistically calls animal products - animal products and
animal byproducts - dwarfs all others in the number of individual
animal lives it affects.
The efforts of the animal-rights movement, the broad movement that
situates itself on the spectrum somewhere between the meliorism of the
animal welfare bodies and the radicalism of animal liberation, are
rightly directed at decent people who both know and don't know that
there is something going on that stinks to high heaven - people who
will say: "Yes, it's terrible what lives brood sows live, it's
terrible what lives veal calves live", but who will then add, with a
helpless shrug of the shoulders - "What can I do about it?"
The activities of animals-rights organisations have shifted the onus
onto the industry to justify its practices; and because its practices
are indefensible and unjustifiable except on the most narrowly
economistic grounds ("Do you want to pay $1.50 more for a dozen
eggs?") the industry is battening down its hatches and hoping the
storm will blow itself out. Insofar as there was a public relations
war, the industry has already lost that war.
A final note. The campaign of human beings for animal rights is
curious in one respect: that the creatures on whose behalf human
beings are acting are unaware of what their benefactors are up to and,
if they succeed, are unlikely to thank them. There is even a sense in
which animals do not know what is wrong.
They do certainly not know what is wrong in the same way that we human
beings know what is wrong. Thus, however close the well-meaning
benefactor may feel to his or her fellow animals, the animal-rights
campaign remains a human project from beginning to end.
J. M. Coetzee was the 2003 Nobel Prize laureate for literature. This
is an edited extract of a speech to be delivered in Sydney tonight.