In 2005, Monsanto filed two applications for patents on breeding practices that involve identifying genes marking desirable traits in pigs, the breeding of animals to attain such traits, and particular insemination devices. This would have allowed Monsanto to legally prevent, or lay claim on, any pigs born through such breeding methods.
Can animal liberation be achieved in a capitalist system? Or is it true that animal liberation and capitalism just don’t mix.
Trading Welfare For Profit
Advocates of free trade promote policies that allow the trade of goods and services without taxes and trade barriers. Such policies have effectively destroyed our ability to protect the animals of this earth.
The World Trade Organization (WTO), the selective and private organization that deals with international trade, has made it illegal to require that imports meet the same humane farming, hunting, or fishing standards as those in the import country. So, when Mexico challenged the US ban on tuna that did not meet dolphin-friendly standards, the GATT (predecessor of the WTO) declared the ban a violation.1 This means that no country can ensure that the animal products consumed or used in the region follow the country’s ethical standards. In addition, any country that hopes to protect the welfare of animals can suffer when the cost of the greater-welfare home-produced products is higher than imported lower-welfare animal products.
For these reasons Dr. Michael Greger states, “People who care deeply about animal issues—fur, factory farming, animal testing, endangered species—should be very concerned with corporate globalization.” 1
Big Animal Industry = Big Money
Major corporations are attempting to gain monopolies on animal products worldwide. In Canada, three companies are responsible for ~70% of the milk products processed2 and the top four companies perform 74% of hog slaughters.3 The North American meat industry is dominated by major corporations, such as Cargill, Con-Agra, and Tyson Foods (whom acquired the Iowa Beef Processors in 2001), with a trend towards vertical integration, in which the corporation controls the food processing chain from the feed and fertilizers to retail operations.4
Corporate control of the meat industry means more animals on fewer farms. Currently in Canada the average number of laying hens per flock is 18,3685, the average number of pigs per farm is 1,4736, and 14.2 million cows were raised on only 90,000 farms in 2007.7 With so many animals on so little land, humane treatment becomes impossible.
Animal research is additionally becoming big industry. Large contract research organizations, whom provide research facilities to other corporations, such as Sequani, Harlan, Covance, and Charles River Laboratories are buying up smaller competitors to gain control of profits from animal testing. Animal suppliers are also making increasingly large profits; for example, The Jackson Laboratory sells over two million Jax® mice annually8 and Delta Biological now sells preserved ‘specimens’ for classroom dissections online. Trends in the fur industry also show increasing global dominance and control. For example, in 1992, the American Mink Council, the Canada Mink Breeders Association, and Canada Fox Breeders Association partnered into the North American Fur Auction, the largest fur auction house in North America (the third largest in the world).9
Animal industries are not immune to the greed, power, and domination of the current capitalism complex, with an increasing number of animal lives being sold by fewer companies than ever before.
Disposable: Animals and Workers
In capitalist systems, labour is considered a commodity. Businesses pay workers as little as possible for the job completed. This is no different in the animal industry.
Human Rights Watch documented the horrific working conditions in U.S. meat and poultry plants in the report Blood, Sweat, and Fear. Due to the high speeds of the assembly lines and dangers of working with frantic animals, the industry has the highest rate of injury and illness of any manufacturing sector. The workers are at constant risk of dangerous animalbourne diseases and viruses, repetitive stress injuries, and slips and falls on the blood- and urine-soaked slaughterhouse floors. Employers take advantage of the vulnerability of immigrant workers, many of whom cannot speak English, to employ individuals who will work dangerous jobs for little pay. Workers face dismissal if they attempt to union organize or file a compensation claim for injury.10
It should not be surprising that an industry which views living beings as resources, and profits from the suffering and killing of nonhuman animals, shows callous disregard for the well-being of their workers. Both the workers and the animals are considered disposable and easily replaced. As described by an academic who examined the hiring process at Tyson Foods poultry plant in Arkansas states, “Tyson processes job applicants like the process poultry. The emphasis is on quantity, not quality.”11
Animals and Capital
Capitalism is based on a system in which property owners make the smallest investments possible to produce items sold at the highest possible price. Hidden within this framework is the exploitation of the labourer; labourers are paid the lowest feasible wage to increase the capital (wealth) of the property owner. The labourer is exploited by the property owner because they produce value that they do not receive; for example, the property owner steals from the worker who is paid $1.00 a day to produce jeans that are sold for $200.
As in the case of human labourers, property owners exploit animals to make maximal profits. Under the current capitalist system, animals are caged, mutilated, isolated, and abused because such activities are profitable. The biological and psychological needs of the animal are disregarded if they reduce the capital gained by the property owner.12
However, unlike non-slave human labourers, animals are considered property. While value is stolen from human labourers by the property owners, in the case of animals, it is their very life that is stolen; they are either imprisoned to produce a specific commodity (i.e., milk and eggs) or they become the commodity (i.e., meat).12 Defined as property, the needs and wants of an animal will always be considered subordinate to the needs and wants of humans. This is shown explicitly in the law, in which the interests of humans, which are often trivial, are almost always chosen over the interests of animals, which are often a case of life or death.13
The capitalist system, and the drive for increasing profits, intensifies the exploitation experienced by both human and nonhuman animals. Under the capitalist system, the interests of some (the worker, the animal) can be overshadowed by the interests of others (the property owner). The liberation of all animals, human and nonhuman, will not be achieved without fighting against this exploitative system.
1Greger, M. (2004). FTAA: Trading away our right to protect animals. Retrieved May 16, 2009, from Free Trade Kills Animals Web site: http://freetradekillsanimals.org/?page=FTAAGreger
2Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada (2007). Canadian dairy industry at a glance. Retrieved May 16, 2009, from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Web site: www4.agr.gc.ca/resources/prod/doc/dairy/pdf/At_a_glance_e_2007.pdf
3Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada (2007). Distribution of slaughter activity – hogs. Red Meat Market Information. Retrieved May 16, 2009, from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Web site: http://www.agr.gc.ca/redmeat/almrt31cal_eng.htm May 16, 2009.
4Rifkin, J. (1992). Beyond beef: The rise and fall of cattle culture. New York: Plume.
5Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada. Canada’s egg industry … at a glance. Retrieved May 16, 2009, from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Web site: http://www.agr.gc.ca/poultry/gleg_eng.htm
6Statistics Canada. Hogs statistics, number of farms reporting and average number of hogs per farm. Retrieved from Statistics Canada Web site: Table 003-0089.
7Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada. Canada’s Red Meat Industry. Retrieved May 16, 2009, from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Web site: http://ats.agr.gc.ca/supply/4226_e.htm
8The Jackson Laboratory. Retrieved May 16, 2009 from The Jackson Laboratory Web site: http://jaxmice.jax.org/orders/index.html
9North American Fur Auctions. Retrieved May 16, 2009 from North America Fur Auctions Web site: http://www.nafa.ca/page.asp?/corporate/profile.asp
10Human Rights Watch (2004). Blood, sweat, and fear: Worker’s rights in U.S. meat and poultry plants. New York: Human Rights Watch.
11Striffler, S. (2002). Inside a poultry processing plant: An ethnographic portrait.” Labor History, 43, 305–313.
12Torres, B. (2008). Making a killing: The political economy of animal rights. Oakland: AK Press.
13Francione, G. (1995). Animals, property, and the law. Philadelphia: Temple University Press
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