March 23, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

Sentient beings

By Shaula Villadoniga*
Published: 2016-11-27

For decades, famed bullfighter like "El Cordobes" were celebrities and stars in macho Spain.

In case of people whose lives depend on meat, that may very well mean that their right to food trumps the animal's right not to be killed. In case of our affluent Western society, with lots of nutritious and healthy alternatives to meat, the picture is rather different.

But the reality is that animals are produced for food on a massive scale, 70 billion per year. There are immense corporate interests and marketing power is overwhelming. Many people love meat and cannot imagine themselves doing without it. Becoming vegetarian or vegan at an individual level is one thing, but a society doing the same is quite another. In short, the production of animals for food is likely to be around for quite some time.

You were in Rome for the United Nations Committee on World Food Security. What decisions did the governments made regarding animals? They adopted policy recommendations on livestock production that called for improving animal welfare in all farming systems, but especially in industrial livestock operations. Seen alone, these recommendations are not very novel or ambitious, but nevertheless I think they are of profound significance. First, because animal welfare is a new concept for the United Nations; it made its first appearance in a UN negotiated text a mere two years ago. Second, the recommendations about improving animal welfare are firmly within the context of achieving food security and nutrition through sustainable agriculture.

In other words, the adoption of these recommendations represent the international community acknowledging for the first time that the goal of ending hunger should be achieved by sustainable agriculture of which improved animal welfare is integral part.

So Spain, as part of the UN, seeks to end global hunger while recognizing that animal welfare should be respected, and, at the same time, it allows animals to be tortured to death just for entertainment. Ironic. Spot on. In fact, our relationships with animals are rife with such ironies.

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