Analysis by cliche wins again
Posted by aogSunday, 26 August 2007 at 09:19 TrackBack Ping URL

I saw this post about a recent exchange on animal rights, and my initial two thoughts were

  • “Because I have opposable thumbs, that’s why!”
  • “Nothing is a better survival trait for a species than being tasty”

I didn’t comment, because it then occurred to me “what about the dodo”? On the other hand, many of these stories that are common wisdom are in fact inaccurate, so I checked out the history of the dodo extinction. Here is the key quote

journals are full of reports regarding the bad taste and tough meat of the dodo,

An epigraphic triumph. The article further notes

when humans first arrived on Mauritius, they also brought with them other animals that had not existed on the island before, including dogs, pigs, cats, rats, and Crab-eating Macaques, which plundered the dodo nests, while humans destroyed the forests where the birds made their homes; currently, the impact these animals — especially the pigs and macaques — had on the dodo population is considered to have been more severe than that of hunting.

This is the more common model of extinction by humans. Interestingly, the article claims that the extinction went basically unnoticed in European society until the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland which made use of the dodo as one of the characters. Frankly, most of the wisdom of western culture is in that pair of books. Everything else is just commentary and elaboration.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
David Cohen Sunday, 26 August 2007 at 19:12

I’m a proud bourgeois individualist, but vegetarianism is bourgeois individualism run mad. “What about this poor cow,” runs the plaint of the vegan.

It sucks to be a cow, I suppose, but cows as a species have cut quite a good deal for themselves. They’ve convinced our species to devote a substantial portion of our society to keeping their species going. It’s quite likely that, if we keep eating cows, they’ll be the fourth or fifth species to colonize a new planet and might even outlive the solar system. If we don’t keep eating them, cows will be extinct within 50 years.

Michael Herdegen Monday, 27 August 2007 at 08:50

Cows as a species have cut quite a good deal for themselves. They’ve convinced our species to devote a substantial portion of our society to keeping their species going. … If we don’t keep eating them, cows will be extinct within 50 years.

But at what price have they bought their survival as a species ?

Would humans think that it was worth it to be kept as chattel by superior beings, housed cheek by jowl in prison-like conditions, fed barely digestible filth, pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics, only to be slaughtered on their 21st birthday ?

No doubt some would, as there appear to be plenty of people who don’t much mind being slaves, but count me out.

Annoying Old Guy Monday, 27 August 2007 at 09:48

What if the alternative is extinction? And once you worry about individual cows, then you’re arguing some point other than success at species survival.

As for barely digestible filth, that’s sure not what I saw being fed to the cows on the farms I knew. Based on the reactions of the cows to the feed truck, they thought the food was darn tasty. The funniest incident, though, was one time when there was a leak in the silo and enough water got it to start the corn fermenting but not obviously spoiled and the farmer ended up with a bunch of drunk cows. The cows thought it was great, but the mean old farmer fixed the leak and the cows have been clean and sober ever since.

Michael Herdegen Monday, 27 August 2007 at 12:47

What if the alternative is extinction?

If the choice were between being pets, as we keep dogs and cats, or extinction, then I’d say learn to live with it.

If the choice were between being industrially-farmed as a food source, as we do to cows, pigs, and chickens, then it ain’t worth it. We weren’t good enough to conquer the Universe, or at least to hold our own - so sad, too bad.

As for barely digestible filth, that’s sure not what I saw being fed to the cows on the farms I knew.

While the cows might enjoy eating what they’re fed on small family farms, it’s not necessarily good for them. It’s like a human subsisting on a diet of chips, snack cakes, and Mountain Dew:

[All emphasis added]

What About Grass-fed Beef?

[Cows], sheep, and other grazing animals are endowed with the ability to convert grasses, which those of us who possess only one stomach cannot digest, into food that we can digest. They can do this because they are ruminants, which is to say that they possess a rumen, a 45 or so gallon (in the case of cows) fermentation tank in which resident bacteria convert cellulose into protein and fats.

Traditionally, all beef was grass-fed beef, but in the United States today what is commercially available is almost all feedlot beef. The reason? It’s faster, and [therefore] more profitable. Seventy-five years ago, steers were 4 or 5 years old at slaughter. Today, they are 14 or 16 months. You can’t take a beef calf from a birth weight of 80 pounds to 1,200 pounds in a little more than a year on grass. It takes enormous quantities of corn, protein supplements, antibiotics and other drugs, including growth hormones.

Switching a cow from grass to grain is so disturbing to the animal’s digestive system that it can kill the animal if not done gradually and if the animal is not continually fed antibiotics. These animals are designed to forage, but we make them eat grain, primarily corn, in order to make them as fat as possible as fast as possible.

Author and small-scale cattleman Michael Pollan wrote recently in the New York Times about what happens to cows when they are taken off of pastures and put into feedlots and fed grain:

“Perhaps the most serious thing that can go wrong with a ruminant on corn is feedlot bloat. The rumen is always producing copious amounts of gas, which is normally expelled by belching during rumination. But when the diet contains too much starch and too little roughage, rumination all but stops, and a layer of foamy slime that can trap gas forms in the rumen. The rumen inflates like a balloon, pressing against the animal’s lungs. Unless action is promptly taken to relieve the pressure (usually by forcing a hose down the animal’s esophagus), the cow suffocates.

A corn diet can also give a cow acidosis. Unlike that in our own highly acidic stomachs, the normal pH of a rumen is neutral. Corn makes it unnaturally acidic, however, causing a kind of bovine heartburn, which in some cases can kill the animal but usually just makes it sick. Acidotic animals go off their feed, pant and salivate excessively, paw at their bellies and eat dirt. The condition can lead to diarrhea, ulcers, bloat, liver disease and a general weakening of the immune system that leaves the animal vulnerable to everything from pneumonia to feedlot polio.”

All this is not only unnatural and dangerous for the cows. It also has profound consequences for us. Feedlot beef as we know it today would be impossible if it weren’t for the routine and continual feeding of antibiotics to these animals. This leads directly and inexorably to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These are the new “superbugs” that are increasingly rendering our “miracle drugs” ineffective…

That sure sounds “barely digestible” to me. As for “filth”, that’s where industrial farming comes in:

Cattle feed is often a sum of animal parts


Howard Lyman remembers his days as a Montana cattleman, a fourth-generation rancher who raised some 30,000 cattle for slaughter at a farm and feedlot southeast of Great Falls.

He also remembers what his cows ate — and the popular notion that cattle spend their lives grazing in green pastures is far from reality, Lyman says.

“When I was a kid, you raised your cows on mother’s milk,” the 65-year-old Lyman said. “Then as they’d get older, they’d graze most the year and winter on hay.”

But that’s not how it happens now — and hasn’t for a long time.

Ranchers found that grain rations mixed with proteins could help fatten and muscle out herds more quickly, and in turn, bring mature livestock to market much faster, Lyman said.

And, in farming communities, a variety of protein sources were readily available, from soybeans or peanuts or cottonseed. Or, from chicken feces, poultry feathers, cow blood or other parts of pigs, horses, fish, cattle and just about any animal part unfit for human consumption.

“These days, anytime you find an animal raised in a factory feedlot setting, they’re all eating rendered animal parts.” Lyman said. […]

In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration — acting to safeguard America’s beef against a disease emerging overseas called mad cow — banned cattle feed from containing most byproducts of cattle, sheep and goats. […]

[At the end of Jan., 2004], the FDA went further, announcing new restrictions on cattle feeds, including bans against cattle blood and poultry litter, which includes manure. […]

Cows are still allowed to eat feeds that can include parts of pigs, fish, chicken, horses, even cats or dogs. And some of those animals — before being rendered and mixed up for cattle feed — are raised on food containing the same cow parts now banned from cattle consumption.

And cattle can continue to consume pig and horse blood for protein, as well as tallow, a hard fat from rendered cattle parts, as a fattening source. […]

Though cows spend much of their lives eating grass and other forages, such as alfalfa and hay, some industry insiders say diets largely changed after World War II — when the bottom dropped out of the grain market.

Cattle ranchers then widely turned to cheap and available sources of feed that could help fatten herds more quickly, and in turn, help bring mature livestock to market faster.

And with advances in cattle genetics, they found grain rations mixed with fats and proteins could optimize their cows’ respective products marketed for consumption: beef and milk.

While soybeans, cottonseed and synthetic amino acids increasingly have been used for such protein supplements, animal byproducts remain widespread. Everything that swims, flies, snorts, even purrs or barks, can be — and has been — used as protein in cattle feed, industry officials acknowledge.

“That’s just the beauty of the rendering process,” said Tom Cook, president of the National Renderers Association, a lobbying group for the rendering industry. “It takes material that’s generally useless and adds value back into that material.” […]

Since the FDA’s 1997 feed ban, cow brains, spinal cords and other central nervous system tissues — cattle parts where prions are typically harbored — are removed, separately rendered and kept out of cattle feed. Any feed mix for other animals containing such parts is supposed to be labeled, “Do not feed to cattle or other ruminants.” […]

The new restrictions not only prohibited cow blood meal as an ingredient of calf milk-replacers — a widespread feed source for dairy and veal calves — but also banned chicken and turkey litter from cattle feed, which some ranchers used as a cheap feed protein…

Cattle fare best when they eat grasses and other leafy stuff. But we are routinely feeding them, or have fed them, soybeans, peanuts, cottonseed, chicken feces, turkey litter, poultry feathers, cow blood, parts of pigs, horses, and fish, and replaced milk for calves with cow blood meal(!!).

Thus, “filth”, which is actually slightly understating how foul is the feed. “Sewage” would also apply.

Now, it’s true that the cows grow large on such swill, and so therefore it must be somewhat nutritious, but only just. Through decades of Frankensteinian tinkering, we’ve learned how to keep the cattle on the “undead” side of the malnutrition ledger.

I find such practices to be degrading to our society, if only in a small way. America’s rich enough to not have to abuse farm animals so as to lower the cost of meat by a buck a pound.

erp Monday, 27 August 2007 at 13:27

Michael, do you only eat grass-fed beef? I just googled it. Surprisingly, it’s not that expensive and considering that we have cut our consumption of red meat to the bare bones ;-) it wouldn’t break the bank if we indulged once a while. Any suggestions for a supplier?

How about lamb from the antipodes?

Annoying Old Guy Monday, 27 August 2007 at 13:37

OK, OK. I have only been on family run farms (and that’s where we usually get our beef, buying a quarter or half cow at a time).

Michael Herdegen Monday, 27 August 2007 at 14:26


Sorry, I don’t eat beef any more, but if I were to do so, I’d certainly eat grass-fed beef and buffalo, finances permitting. It’s far healthier than grain-fed cattle. In fact, it’s not even really “red meat” by today’s standards, since it’s nearly as lean as modern poultry and has almost as much omega-3 fats as does wild salmon.

Click on the “What About Grass-fed Beef?” link if you’d like more info about that - at the original page it’s below the part that I excerpted.

Some supermarkets carry it, and of course Whole Foods and Wild Oats do, if you have one of those near you. Otherwise, mail-order, or check at a local farmers’ market for a lead on a local supplier.


That’s the way to go. My experience in the past, in eastern Colorado, was that buying a half beef directly from the rancher and meat processor saved about 40% over the supermarket cost, assuming that one were going to buy all of the assorted cuts anyway. That’s the drawback of buying bulk beef, IMO, that you get (and pay for) all parts.

erp Monday, 27 August 2007 at 14:57

Thanks, my poor husband is learning the facts of a life time of poor eating habits and this might be something he can actually enjoy.

cjm Monday, 27 August 2007 at 15:23

Logan’s Pasture

“renew! renew!”

erp Monday, 27 August 2007 at 16:45

cjm, I don’t get the reference.

Michael Herdegen Monday, 27 August 2007 at 17:03

It’s to Logan’s Run, a novel in which nobody is allowed to live past the age of 21 due to resource depletion and overpopulation, because we were talking about the trade-offs of accepting slavery in return for species survival, and how that applies to cows.

I thought that the novel was awesome when I was 12, but I suspect that an experienced and well-read person would have a somewhat less-high opinion of it.

David Cohen Tuesday, 28 August 2007 at 08:33

Michael: That’s exactly what I mean by bourgeois individualism run mad. Cows are not people, so how I would like being treated like cows are treated is not the question.

erp Tuesday, 28 August 2007 at 08:49

“Logan’s Run” was written in 1967, long after my love affair with sci-fi had run its course. By then I was more into “Dr. Spock.”

When reading books we liked in our earlier years, we must try not to impose on them our new sophisticated personas.

Michael Herdegen Tuesday, 28 August 2007 at 21:17

Cows are not people, so how I would like being treated like cows are treated is not the question.

No, of course not. The questions that I was addressing, which I found to be inherent in your opinion that “cows as a species have cut quite a good deal for themselves”, are these: Have they really, and can humans be proud of the way that they treat cows, or any other animals that they exploit ?

Bret Wednesday, 29 August 2007 at 01:15

Michael Herdegen asked: “…can humans be proud of the way that they treat cows…

Many humans certainly are proud of the way they treat cows (read Rancher Magazine for examples). Others are horrified by how any cattleman treats cows (see Vegan Today for examples). Humans are diverse in their pride or lack thereof regarding a particular subject.

Michael Herdegen Wednesday, 29 August 2007 at 12:58

Individuals are prosecuted and convicted for treating their non-commercial animals in the same ways that are common in industrial farming. Therefore, either the animal cruelty statutes are oppressive and unjust, or industrial farming is immoral.

Can’t have it both ways.

Bret Wednesday, 29 August 2007 at 13:31

We shouldn’t have any right to distinguish between a cow and cat? A dog and a rat? I think even a given individual can have it both ways. Certainly across a range of individuals it can be had both ways. Plus you’re confusing “moral” and “legal” which often have nothing to do with each other as far as I can tell.

Michael Herdegen Wednesday, 29 August 2007 at 14:48

We shouldn’t have any right to distinguish between a cow and cat? … Plus you’re confusing “moral” and “legal” which often have nothing to do with each other as far as I can tell.

Although from a general and philosophical POV you are correct on both counts, once we move from the abstract to the specific the argument fails, since the inference that can be drawn from these statements is that it should be of no concern to us if animals are abused commercially.

Bret Wednesday, 29 August 2007 at 16:31

An inference might be that it could be of no concern to at least some of us if animals are abused (whatever that means) commercially.

Michael Herdegen Wednesday, 29 August 2007 at 16:45

It’s apparently of no concern to most people. But that’s based on ignorance, (e.g. “whatever that means”), not a knowing disregard, and thus my ealier statement that “such practices [are] degrading to our society, if only in a small way.”

Bret Thursday, 30 August 2007 at 11:25

I personally am far more concerned with the supply of inexpensive and tasty protein than the welfare of cattle which I consider to be a reactive machine (as opposed to self-aware) and at about the same level as asparagus.

Michael Herdegen Friday, 31 August 2007 at 01:11

Cattle are not self-aware in the same way that humans are, but they are no more asparagus-like than are dogs or chimps.

As for “inexpensive”, how much is too much? In your part of the country, people are willing to pay a third of a million bucks or more for what most people in the U.S. would consider to be a completely unexeptional house, so what’s the big deal about paying an extra dollar per pound of beef, to ensure humane treatment of the animal pre-slaughter?

Bret Friday, 31 August 2007 at 14:06

As for “inexpensive”, how much is too much?

Even a penny more than I pay now. I need those pennies to pay off the mortgage. A penny saved is a penny earned, you know.

I really am truly convinced that cattle is no more self-aware than asparagus. “Humane” treatment would therefore be a waste of effort. So I don’t see any benefit to making it more expensive.

Michael Herdegen Saturday, 01 September 2007 at 13:09

I really am truly convinced that cattle is no more self-aware than asparagus.

I would be very interested in seeing you attempt to substantiate that assessment. References ?

For instance, if that’s so, then why does the United States Department of Agriculture enforce “humane slaughter” laws and regulations, through its Food Safety and Inspection Service ?

According to one of the USDA websites, they are seeking to implement even more humane standards than currently exist, and at another site they claim to have shut down at least two slaughterhouses for treating farm animals badly.

That seems like a ridiculous amount of trouble and money to spend on “walking broccoli”.

Further, leaving aside cows for the moment, I’m sure that you would agree that pigs are very intelligent, as smart as or smarter than dogs. But pigs face the same industrial-farming hells as do cows:

On any given day in the United States, there are approximately 60 million pigs living on factory farms, and about 100 million are killed for food every year.(5,6) Factory-farming conditions are no better in Canada, which annually exports more than 6 million live pigs to the U.S. for slaughter.(7) Managers of Canada’s largest pig exporter faced cruelty charges after 10,000 dead and dying pigs were found on the company’s farms. Investigators found dead pigs stacked behind barns and dead piglets in manure tanks, and all the live pigs “were in some form of distress.”(8)

Mother pigs (sows), who account for about 6 million of the pigs in the U.S., spend most of their lives in individual “gestation” crates, which are about 7 feet long and 2 feet wide—too small for them even to turn around.(9) After giving birth to piglets, sows are moved to “farrowing” crates, which are wide enough for them to lie down and nurse their babies but still not large enough for them to turn around or build nests for their young.(10)

Piglets are taken from their mothers when they are as young as 10 days old. Once her piglets are gone, each sow is impregnated again, and the cycle continues for three or four years before she is slaughtered.(11,12) This intensive confinement produces stress- and boredom-related behaviors, such as chewing on cage bars or obsessively pressing on water bottles.(13,14)

Because crowding creates an atmosphere that encourages disease, pigs […] and other factory-farmed animals are fed 20 million pounds of antibiotics a year, [contributing to the] rise of strains of bacteria that are resistant to treatment.(40) Both the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association have recommended that factory farms stop using antibiotics, but the pig industry, in particular, is resistant.(41,42) One member of the National Pork Board complained, “If we take growth promoters out, then we’re going to have a wider range of weights in the pigs going to market. And the packer won’t pay top dollar…”(43)

5)USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, “USDA Quarterly Pigs and Hogs Report: September 2003,” The, 20 Nov. 2003.

6)Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Pigmeat, Slaughtered/Production Animals (Head) 2002,” 10 Jun. 2003.

7)United States Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service, “Canadian Pork Industry Overview, September 2003,” The, Sep. 2003.

8)Kelly Pedro, “Pigs Found Dead, Dying. Seven Men Have Been Charged Over the Grim Discovery Involving 10,000 Animals,” The London Free Press, 15 Sep. 2003.

9)Marc Kaufman, “In Pig Farming, Growing Concern,” The Washington Post, 18 Jun. 2001.


11)A.J. Zanella and O. Duran, “Pig Welfare During Loading and Transportation: A North American Perspective,” I Conferencia Virtual Internacional Sobre Qualidade de Carne Suina, via Internet, 16 Nov. 2000.


13)Zanella and Duran.


40)Jeff Donn, “Contaminated Meat Spurs Concern. Study Finds 1 in 5 Market Samples Contained Drug-Resistant Bacteria,” Associated Press, 18 Oct. 2001.

41)Marc Kaufman, “WHO Urges End to Use of Antibiotics for Animal Growth,” The Washington Post, 13 Aug. 2003.

42)“Groups Applaud AMA Action on Antibiotics in Agriculture, Antibiotic Resistance,” U.S. Newswire, 20 Jun. 2001.

43)Dana Hedgpeth, “Hog Producers Dispute WHO on Antibiotics,” The Washington Post, 16 Aug. 2003.

Check out cite # 40: “Study Finds 1 in 5 Market Samples Contained Drug-Resistant Bacteria”. Beautiful.

Bret Saturday, 01 September 2007 at 23:48

oroborous wrote: “I would be very interested in seeing you attempt to substantiate that assessment [that cows are not self-aware or that asparagus is]. References ?

References? References? I don’t need no stinkin’ references!!!

No references. Only belief. But to think that they are self-aware requires belief as well.

I have 2 rationalizations about why I think cows aren’t self aware:

(1) Experientially, I have looked cows in the eyes and have seen nobody home behind those eyes.

(2) Evolutionarily, I can’t imagine why a strict herbivore and reactive machine like a cow would evolve self-awareness.

Oroborous also wrote: “…why does the United States Department of Agriculture enforce “humane slaughter” laws and regulations…

Because humans naturally attribute anthropomorphic traits to everything that moves so they wrongly attribute self-awareness (or their own feeling or something) to cows. I see it all the time with the robots. People are forever talking about the robot getting “bummed out” or some such nonsense since I’m absolutely sure my robots aren’t self-aware.

Michael Herdegen Monday, 03 September 2007 at 09:47

…I’m absolutely sure my robots aren’t self-aware.

That’s what they want you to think. It’s all part of the master plan…

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