Earthlings is an incredibly eye-opening documentary about they way humans use animals. From food, to science, to entertainment, we exploit our fellow creatures to no end. It is disturbing and disheartening to see just how brutal humans can be, and then to realize that these horrible practices are accepted as part of our every day lives without any thought to the immense cruelty that is occurring. Earthlings urges us to “make the connection.”
In Earthlings, our exploitation of animals is examined from five areas: food, clothing, entertainment, science, and even our pets. Now, I know this is a blog about food, but anyone who reads this blog knows that I feel very passionately about ending animal abuse. Although our food system is a gigantic contributor to animal suffering, unfortunately, it is not the only contributor. So, this documentary not only delves into our food system, but also examines other areas in which we inflict suffering on our fellow creatures.
At only 1 hr 30 min, I urge everyone to watch this short but powerful film. You can watch it online right here (it is also available on Netflix). Please don’t put this off. Ignorance has prevailed for far too long and it only helps to fuel the cruelty and suffering. As a society, we have a very strong desire not to know things that might weigh heavy on our conscience, but the only way to end injustice is to first be aware of it.
Below is my short summary of the film (which I’m including only because I’m afraid some of you will watch American Idol instead of Earthlings), but my words can not possibly convey the extent of the problem so I hope that you will watch it for yourself.
Most of us could never imagine deliberately harming an animal, let alone our beloved cats and dogs. But, do we ever stop and think about where our pets come from? The majority of dogs in pet stores come from puppy mills where animals are not only repeatedly bred, but they also live their entire lives in filthy, crowded cages. They do not receive veterinary care (they are simply “discarded” when unable to reproduce), there is no socialization, and they suffer from physical and psychological conditions.
First: Overcrowded cages, Second: Starvation is common in puppy mills
It is incredibly important to spay and neuter our pets. Every year, 25 million pets become homeless (including about 27% of the pure-bred dogs). Of these 25 million, 9 million of them die on the streets from disease, injury, or starvation. The other 16 million are sent to shelters that are often forced to kill them due to lack of space. Almost 50% of animals in shelters are brought in by their owners! Over 60,000 animals are euthanized every day. Injection is by far the most humane way to euthanize animals, but it is expensive, so shelters with budget constraints are forced to use other methods such as gas chambers. Frightened animals are packed into the chambers and it can take as long as 20 minutes for them to die.
First: Gas chamber, Second: Euthanized cats and dogs
If you’ve been reading this blog, this one needs no further explanation. If you’re new, read the posts in the Animal Welfare and Meet Your Meat categories.
First: Abused pig, Second: Abused and infected chicken
Because I focus this blog on American food issues, I have not covered the brutal practices of whale and dolphin fishing that occur in other parts of the world (yes, for food). In addition to traditional US livestock, Earthlings discusses the massive slaughter of these majestic sea creatures around the world.
First: Slaughtered dolphins, Second: Slaughtered whales
The demand for leather comes primarily from the US, the UK, and Germany. Just about everyone wears leather (and suede) with little or no thought as to where it comes from. When we do think about it, we probably think that leather is a by-product of the beef industry, but the reality is that cows slaughtered for beef are not also used for leather.
Shockingly, the majority of leather comes from India cows, where slaughter of cows is forbidden. Poor, rural Indian families sell their cows only after being assured the cows will live out their lives on farms. The cows are then taken on a brutal and exhausting journey to relocate them to somewhere where their slaughter is legal. On the journey, they are not given food or water and are so weakened that they often break bones or collapse from exhaustion. To keep the cattle moving, the handlers will deliberately break their tail, the pain of which causes the cows to jump to their feet and keep marching forward. Their tails are broken again and again, in multiple places, each time they collapse from weakness. Handlers also rub chili powder into their eyes as another “keep moving” tactic.
Rodeos: (Being a Texan, this one can be an especially touchy subject in certain company.) Animals are tormented with poking, prodding, and electric shocks, to get them to bolt out of the chute. The roped animals are very scared, and running full speed, then they are roughly jerked to the ground with a rope around the neck. There is no denying that rodeos are brutal and exploit our fellow animals.
Racing: For dog & horse racing (and any other type of animal racing), training is often accomplished by withholding food and sometimes water. Injured race animals are “discarded.”
Hunting: (Another touchy subject in Texas.) Over 200 million animals are killed through hunting and fishing every year . There can be no debate that if hunting is a sport, it is a blood sport.
Circuses: Abuse of circus animals has been exposed by numerous undercover investigations. On top of the fact that the animals are kept in small cages, are uncomfortably transported all over the country, are denied socialization, and are in chains for 95% of their lives, they are also violently abused during training.
Bullfighting: Bullfighting pits a confused, maimed, psychologically tormented, and physically debilitated bull against a matador. Many prominent matadors report that bulls are given tranquilizers, cut to cause blood loss, and have heavy weights hung around their necks for days prior to a fight.
Zoos: We regard zoos as educational opportunities, but what can we really learn about wild animals by observing them in cages, other than a disregard for the nature of other beings?
(How can we find entertainment in such brutal activities? Are humans not the most callous beings of all?)
Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a huge advocate of science, experimentation, exploration, and discovery, in general. However, some of the ways we use animals for so-called science are atrocious. Now, I’m not saying that we should stop working on cancer cures because it requires testing on animals, but I am saying that we need to be WAY more selective about why, how, and how much we torture animals for the sake of science.
We deliberately inflict diseases, burns, starvation, dehydration, infections, head trauma, and physical and psychological torment on lab animals. Military research tests atomic blasts on dogs and nuclear radiation on primates. To simulate the effects of car crashes, we literally strap baboons into metal helmets and slam their heads with the force of up to 1000 g’s. This process is repeated again and again on the same animal.
Even my beloved NASA recently funded radioactive experimentation on spider monkeys after the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine called the experiments “cruel, unnecessary, and lack[ing] scientific merit.” The approved experiments may even violate NASA’s own principles for the ethical care and use of animals, which require researchers to consider the scope of societal good that may come from an experiment utilizing animals. As much as I hope that it will happen in my lifetime, interplanetary travel at this point is, at best, speculative, and to put animals through radiation tests at this point is in no way justified.
It is estimated that 10 billion (with a ‘B’) animals die per day due to scientific research and the number is growing by 5% annually. That number is almost beyond comprehension! That’s 19,000 per minute.
Plus, every product tested on animals (yes, every single one, no exceptions) must again be tested on humans. Humans are biologically different than rats, dogs, and monkeys, so even if something is proven safe on animals, it still must be tested on humans before it is approved as safe for humans. It is reasonable to say that much of the initial testing on animals could be eliminated.
The systematic torture of sentient beings, no matter the context or pretense, can not achieve more than it already has: to show us the lowest point of debasement man can reach. We are all animals of this planet. We are all creatures with a purpose. We all seek survival and minimization of pain. We all feel pain. We are all alive. We are all Earthlings. As we examine our dependence on animals for food, fashion, entertainment, research, and companionship, ironically, all we see is a complete disrespect for them.
Breakfast: Bean & soy cheese taco
Lunch: Veggie burger
Dinner: Tofu and bean sprout stir fry