You might remember that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (the ones they don’t kill, anyway) recently sued Sea World, claiming that the park’s famous performing whales were actually slaves. The Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac made fun of PETA at the time for suggesting that animals were the moral equals of humans forced to toil against their will. However ridiculous the view that giving people greater moral standing than “sea kittens” is a sin akin to racism might be, it’s a key philosophical underpinning of the animal rights movement.
In fact, there’s even a term for it: “speciesism.”
Bruce Friedrich, a former PETA Vice President who now holds a senior position with Farm Sanctuary, promoted a film examining this so-called “speciesism” at the Huffington Post this week. He’s not an outlier in his view among animal rights activists: PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk has claimed “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy,” and the head of the Humane Society of the United States (which gives just one percent of its budget to local pet shelters) told an animal rights philosopher that he became vegan after he realized he was being a “speciesist.”
In the real world, the view that “speciesism” is some equivalent to racism or sexism is recognized as bunk. One biologist notes that it is impossible not to put humans before at least some animals:
The vegan militia have forgotten that to get their cruelty free vegetables, the land has already been cleared, all competing species have been killed or driven out, those that remain are poisoned (even by organic farmers – they just use “certified organic” methods of pest control or even other animals like ladybugs). We put humans first every time we clear a field, dig a foundation, fence and spray our crops, and burn diesel to harvest and bring them to market.
This isn’t the first time a scientist has noted that human survival depends necessarily on at least some animal death: One Oregon State University scientist even proposed that if the goal of a food system were to kill the fewest animals, omnivore eating might even be necessary. All those bunnies, voles, and insects you kick out of cropland, even with “organic” pesticides, add up. One Australian expert even thinks eating vegetarian might be “the worst possible thing you can do” if your goal is a “cruelty-free” diet. Hopefully that’ll be some food for thought next time Bruce Friedrich hits the salad bar.