After debating MIT’s Parliamentary Debate Team, Bruce Friedrich, PETA Vice President of policy and government affairs, sat down with The Tech to discuss his views on the ethical treatment of animals.
The Tech: What is your most compelling reason for being vegetarian or vegan?
Bruce Friedrich: When people eat meat, they are entering into a mercenary relationship where they are paying people to mutilate animals, coop animals in their own excrement, ship them in all manners of weather and to chop their throats open often while they are still conscious. This causes animals to suffer [in a way] that would warrant cruelty charges many times over were these protected animals such as dogs or cats. There is no integrity in that. Again, it is a mercenary relationship. How many times in our lives do we pay others to do things that we ourselves wouldn’t do because we have ethical objections? Every time we sit to eat we can make the decision that we are choosing the side of the oppressed over that of the oppressor.
TT: So if I were a farmer or a hunter, would that be acceptable to eat meat then, if I killed the animal myself?
BF: That is a different discussion from what is the strongest argument for MIT students not to eat. You could not personally deal with all the meat in grocery stores, the dining halls, the restaurants. All these animals are gratuitously abused. In terms of hunting, the discussion is if you choose to be merciful and compassionate or to support misery and cruelty. A lot of hunters choose to do the things that causes suffering and misery; they could be hunting with binoculars and a camera instead of hunting with lethal weapons.
TT: I’d like a really straight forward answer: Is it possible to have humane meat?
BF: A lot of meat eaters say humane meat is possible and they use that as their rationalization. For the same reason that we would not raise dogs and cats to eat them, we understand that they are someone instead of something. We shouldn’t do that with animals.
TT: So to rephrase, humane meat is not possible.
BF: Humane meat is not possible. It is a contradiction in terms. In fact, if you google humane meat and my name, you will get the Huffington Post article I wrote about it.
TT: Just to get more of a clarification on your position, I know that you are vegan; are humane animal-products possible?
BF: Yeah, if you rescue a chicken. But that is literally 0 percent of the eggs in grocery stores. All of the eggs commercially available are where the males are tossed alive into grinders because they are a different breed. Even in places like Polyface farms, the animals are treated fine on the farms, but the animals are brought from the same breeders where the males are tossed into the grinders and when their egg production decreases, they have their throats slit open while they are completely conscious.
TT: So you are saying that humane animal-products are possible, but are not commercially available right now
BF: The only non-vegan product that could be done acceptably is eggs. With milk, you are talking about manipulating an animal’s reproductive function, taking their babies away from them and slaughtering the animals at a fraction of their natural life span. All of that involves unnecessary suffering on the part of the animal.
TT: What about animal husbandry, is that acceptable?
BF: No, that is still manipulation of the animal’s reproductive system. It may entail less abuse, but it is still abuse.
TT: So is it the cruelty and misery that is most important?
BF: Any time you eat meat, you are eating the corpse of someone. This isn’t different from doing that to a dog or cat; people in this room would never eat a cat. It is completely irrational to say that I won’t eat a dog or a cat, but I will eat a pig or a chicken.
TT: But who is to say that it is unethical to eat a dog or a cat?
BF: Because you are eating someone instead of something. And that is a side discussion. You could make the case that everyone is just wrong in their objection to eating dogs and cats. But my point in the whole debate is that I don’t have to change what they currently believe. I just have to convince them to align their beliefs with their actions.
TT: What if people, instead of aligning their actions with their previous beliefs, align their beliefs with their previous actions?
BF: I think if you ask people at the end of the debate if cruelty to animals is wrong, none of them are going to change. I don’t think people are going to change their ethics to be unethical. They may continue to live in violation of their ethics. I think it is very unlikely that people will change those beliefs because they are so ethically inarguable.
TT: What do you think about the ethics of doing animal testing for science and medicine?
BF: Just as someone would recoil about doing animal research on human beings. Animals are not test tubes with whiskers and fur, and they should not be used as a means to an end. It is my understanding that MIT’s research is especially cruel and heinous. Someone sent me some articles and I didn’t read it. But even if those articles were not true …