Weeping for the animals : ANOTHER

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If time, since the world began, is represented by one year, then Man has existed from about 20 minutes to midnight on 31 December, and in that time has brought about the extinction of thousands of species through greed, cruelty or indifference.

From the point of view of all other species, the best thing that could happen would be the total disappearance of the human race. This is a sobering thought, which ought to make us approach any exploitation of animals with humility and reluctance.

Thousand of animals and birds are regularly killed for nothing but sport. That means, for the pleasure of killing them. Yet the animals kill only for food. The further civilisation has advanced, the greater has been the exploitation and suffering of the animals. As Jeremy Bentham pointed out, the important question is not "can they reason?" nor "can they talk?" but "can they suffer?"

What people often reply is either "yes, but it's worth it for the benefit conferred of the rest" - this is the usual line on the use of animals in experiments - or "Yes yes, but we limit the suffering as much as we can."

Obviously, in practice, this often involves no limit at all; for example, boiling lobsters alive, or emptying nets full of fish on to decks to die slowly.

And so we come to the cows and calves. Clearly, taking calves away from their mothers involves severe suffering for both. On top of that, the calves are shut into lorries, shipped overseas and then kept for weeks in crates in which they cannot even turn round, and fed on slops until they are killed. Is this really consistent with the argument that the suffering is limited as much as it can be?

I submit that the infliction of such suffering is inconsistent with our collective self-respect. If you see a man cruelly beating a dog, you intervene, because to stand by is inconsistent with your self-respect.

Similarly, a lot of people today feel that what is inflicted on the calves is not consistent with our collective self-respect. Polly Toynbee's old lady was quite right to weep. This wasn't something she'd read about, like Grozny or Rwanda. She'd actuallyseen the wretched calves. For her, it was the same as the cruel man beating the dog. So she did the only thing she could. She wept on camera. Good for her! I don't give two hoots for what foreigners think. In this country, people have always been ready to protest where they see injustice and cruelty inconsistent with collective self-respect. Enlarge your conscience, Polly Toynbee. This is not really different in kind from Tiananmen Square.

Richard Adams is the author of `Watership Down'.