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30th May 1999

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Animal farm-malignant tumour of civilisation

This is the first in a series of articles on vegetarianism , dealing with all apects of vegetarianism from a localised standpoint.

By Mahipali

When you compare man with flesh-eating animals you are struck by several significant physical differences. Just consider a few of them.

Humans have broad, flattened spade-shaped teeth with short and blunt canines. They have flattened nails and intestines 10 - 11 times through their body length. Their saliva contains carbohydrate-digesting enzymes. Carnivorous animals on the other hand have sharp, blade-shaped teeth with long and curved canines. They have sharp claws and intestines 3- 4 times the body length. They have no digestive enzymes in saliva. In all these respects - and many more - we are akin to plant-eating animals rather than to carnivores. There can be little doubt that we are a herbivorous species by nature and that our original diet must have been plant-based, like that of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. But somewhere down the line, circumstances turned us into omnivores. An omnivore eats everything - that's what the word means. In times when plants were hard to get, humans probably started eating small animals who could be caught by hand. Some think that this happened during the Ice Ages when plant life was sparse. When humans learned to make tools, they took to hunting and went for bigger animals. Then they mastered the art of domesticating animals, whom they made to serve man in every way. We got them to draw our carts and carry heavy loads for us; we drank their milk and fleeced their wool and finally killed them and ate their flesh.

'Progressing' on these lines we learned to raise cattle, goats, sheep, pigs and fowl in large herds. In short 'animal farmers' came into being in human societies. The animal farmer was not necessarily a cruel person - until the advent of modern industry that is. In pastoral circumstances, man and animal often lived in harmony. In some cultures, animals were treated with respect and affection and were not killed for food. But in most others , killing became routine. However, until they were killed, animals were well looked after - at least their natural instincts and habits of living were rarely thwarted.

All this changed, and changed dramatically, when industry took over the animal farm. Mahipali does not pretend to know much about industrial economics. But he reads things about it when he gets the chance. So he is able to say a few things about it. He has heard of some ground rules of industry. First, bring down cost of production to the lowest possible level. Second, try to get the highest possible price for your product. Third, do all you can to make it sell. Use all the arts of temptation and tricks of technology to create a captive customer base. Spread the story that what you produce is good for the consumer and hide all evidence to the contrary. Get the scientists and doctors on your side; it is fully worth the price. But above all, never let religious or ethical considerations stand in the way of profit-making. After all, didn't Keynes himself advise us that the time was not yet for a return to the principles of religion and traditional virtue? Economic progress, he said, was obtainable only if we employ the powerful drives of selfishness which religion and traditional wisdom universally ask us to resist. And Keynes is one of the high priests of modern economics.

Such are the rules that govern modern industry and such is its 'philosophy'. Such was the basis upon which the pastoral animal farm evolved into the modern factory farm.

The factory farm is one of the most ruthless creations of modern industry. The more one learns about it, the more is one revolted by its practices. Actually the public at large knows precious little about its practices. A conspiracy of silence in which both industry and government are partners tends to keep the facts about factory farming behind a veil of secrecy. But if you want to do your bit to create a sane world, you must learn to look behind this veil of secrecy surrounding the factory farm. Behind it lies an evil world of horrendous cruelty to animals - a malignant tumour virtually eating its way into the vitals of civilisation, disrupting our own social fabric, even as we go on in our accustomed ways, as if such a blight is not in existence.

Fortunately there is one bright side to these developments. It would seem that factory farming has begun to fall victim to its own excesses - which are legion. As more and more facts about it come to light, millions of people all over the world are turning away from flesh-eating and taking to a vegetarian way of life, their conscience rebelling against the factory farm.

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