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PETA Lawsuit Might Force Us to Rethink our Relationship with Animals

“Orca Slavery” Case Against SeaWorld Questions Our Authority to Treat Other Living Beings As Property

It’s tough to be an animal rights advocate these days, or even someone with an ounce of compassion and an awareness of the atrocities that our species visits upon all others. An overwhelming number of people remain oblivious to the suffering that animals endure at our hands. But maybe there’s hope yet of a brighter future for the non-humans with whom we share this planet.

Factory farm animals are among the most poorly treated in the US.

One particularly strong glimmer of this hope comes from People for Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) recent lawsuit against SeaWorld, which attempts to apply the 13th Amendment of the Constitution – the amendment which outlaws slavery and involuntary servitude – to five orca whales currently being held captive at facilities in California and Florida. These whales were taken from their families and their homes in the wild and are forced to perform mundane tricks on a perpetual basis for cheering throngs. If these orcas were people, the label of slavery would be readily adhered to them.

While critics immediately and predictably condemned the suit, calling it frivolous or disregarding it as a self-serving publicity stunt, they have missed the point. A worthy dialogue has been initiated around these valid and compelling arguments, such that will force us to reconsider how we treat our fellow earthlings.

Among the most poorly treated in the United States, and certainly on the grandest scale, are animals born into the industrial agriculture system. Gone are the days of the quaint, small-scale family farms, with their cheerful red barns and animals grazing among lush pastures. Contemporary livestock endure entire lifetimes of abject misery within the confines of factories designed to maximize production at reduced costs. Unfortunately, humane considerations tend to eat into profits, leaving the animals to bear the burden of unalleviated suffering.

Many people remain unaware of the horrors which characterize today’s factory farms. The industry, with its seemingly limitless wealth and political influence, ensures that the truth remains shrouded from the consuming public. As Paul McCartney has said, “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, then everyone would become a vegetarian.” Yet the slaughterhouses comprise a small fraction of the total abuses exacted upon these innocents. Dairy cows are continually impregnated for the entirety of their sexually mature lives in order to produce vast quantities of milk, only to have their young ripped from them almost immediately after birth; pigs are not permitted the luxury of being able to turn around in their pitifully small yet ‘industry standard’ cages, chicken have their beaks “trimmed” with heated blades so that they can’t peck each other to death in confined spaces; The list goes on.

At the heart of PETA’s lawsuit is the question of our authority to treat other living beings, with proven sentient, emotional and intellectual propensities, as our property. The problem stems from our chauvinism towards non-humans and our misguided beliefs that we are fundamentally different – something which has been disproven by evolutionary biologists. Should the lawsuit be successful and the orcas deemed slaves, the question of farm animal rights would likely follow — and rightly so.

There is a commonly-held belief that people are inherently good. Therefore it must simply be a matter of raising enough awareness to abolish the appalling cruelty enacted by agricultural, entertainment and other such industries. If humanity is to live up to our self-ascribed qualities of intelligence and compassion, then animal enslavement must become a thing of the past, reduced to an unfortunate blemish within the books of human history.

Watch Earthlings if you can bear it, and spread the word.

Laura Bridgeman
Laura Bridgeman is director of Sonar, an organization that advocates for dolphin and whale personhood, and Campaign & Communications Specialist at Earth Island's International Marine Mammal Project.

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I agree. It’s just that when I’ve spoken to people about the issue of animal rights, they sometimes feel as if someone is trying to take away their ‘right’ to eat a burger! Forced lifestyle change, something many Americans reject! And that’s where they tend to get stuck, unable to see the bigger picture. I think if people can relate to these orcas in Sea World they may eventually be able to make the connection to animals trapped in factory farms and perhaps think twice about what they are eating. I thought this article voiced that notion rather well.

By Kathryn on Tue, November 15, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Kathryn: The question of rights should not be directed at our ‘right’ to eat meat, but our ‘right’ to exert control over every aspect of another being’s life, irregardless of ‘humane’ treatment.

The question of keeping animals captive for our purposes is a deep-seated issue for our contemporary society which cannot easily recall a time when agriculture was not practiced. Throughout most of human history, however, humans have killed wild animals. Maybe this is the best and most ethical way to consume meat.

By Laura on Tue, November 15, 2011 at 5:00 pm

I hope people look at this lawsuit and the potential impact on the rights of farm animals as a path to improved health for all rather than a threat to one’s right to eat meat.

By Kathryn on Tue, November 15, 2011 at 4:40 pm

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