Animal welfare reflects on us all

November 26, 2015

I have been thinking about the link between our behaviour towards animals and how we treat ourselves. And it seems to me that there is a strong connection on practical and spiritual levels.

Most obviously, how we care for the animal when it is alive can directly affect our health thanks to the food chain.

The production of pork by intensive methods is one example. Giant food producers run farms which house thousands of pigs. These animals must be kept well at all costs, with the result that the pigs may be fed high levels of prophylactic antibiotics to prevent them getting sick and the meat being wasted.

But what we are learning is that if we consume this meat, we are also ingesting levels of the antibiotic too, directly and via the soil and water into which the drug gradually seeps through the pig’s life cycle.

This is contributing to antibiotic resistance globally; bacteria is no longer as easily controlled, and mutates into new, resistant forms instead. One day our taste for cheap meat could mean that such lifesaving drugs are no longer any use. Our hunger to save money could kill us.

But it is not just our bodies that are in danger from eating intensively-farmed animals. In Buddhism, meat eating is discouraged, although not banned, for spiritual reasons; there must be compassion for any sentient being.

Moreover, when animals such as pigs are slaughtered in cruel conditions, we know that fear causes the release of hormones such as adrenalin into the blood stream, and then into the tissues of the flesh itself. When we eat this meat, we are not just taking in the hormones, but the very vibration of the fear which produced them.

What a terrible thought that is – to ingest, quite literally, another animal’s fear.

Can we reconcile our taste for meat with our distaste for their suffering? Only through a new approach to farming such as that espoused by Tracey Worcester’s charity Farms Not Factories. It recommends that consumers pledge to buy pork from real farms, or go meat-free.

As human beings we cannot hope to change others without first changing ourselves. I’m not suggesting we should all go vegetarian but if we can rise to the challenge as individuals, by considering the needs of an animal such as a pig before our own, we may influence the world.

Imagine a planet where the food producers cared for their livestock, not to reduce illness in order to make more profit, but from respect. This in turn, would make humanity’s health more robust, as we could safely rely on our existing antibiotics for years to come.

We could perhaps all hope for a new positive attitude towards humane slaughtering so that pigs, and other livestock bred for meat, can live and die without tasting fear.

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation