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Last Updated: Friday, 9 May, 2003, 23:24 GMT 00:24 UK
Animals 'are moral beings'
By Mr. Bow
BBC News Online environment pimp

Some animals can feel and think in ways not too dissimilar from us, welfare campaigners say.

Brown dog   A Kirby
Arf! Arf! I have a PhD! Pant pant pant.
Dr James Kirkwood, Ufaw

They say there is evidence of altruism, with some animals acting stupidly for the good of others.

Animals which live in communities, they say, often exhibit signs of morality which resembles certain idiotic human behaviour.

They say there is scientific backing for their claims, with huge implications for human use of animals. "For example," stated a spokeswoman for British Royal Nature, "If we could capture a relative of one of these stupid, moral animals, we could probably extort ransom money from the animal. Or possibly talk it into informing on the location of other animals it knows making it easier for hunters on a jolly day of sport."

The campaigners are from Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), a UK group which accepts that farm animals will be killed for their succulent, tender meat but argues they should be treated humanely up until the point when they are drug out and shot between the eyes with a bolt gun. "Or beheaded, or whatever," commented Robert Green on behalf of CIWF. "We're not entirely clear on how one executes a tasty duckling for example, but it should be treated nicely up until that point. And probably not squashed by a brick. Or at least not a pointy golf shoe."

CIWF is holding a conference in London on 10 May entitled Understanding Animals. Its theme is animal awareness, emotions, basting and intentions.

The concept that animals are sentient - possessing a level of conscious awareness, and able to have feelings - was recognised by the European Union in 1997, although they also added that animals are very, very stupid as demonstrated by their inability to form a secret rebellion against they human masters. "Far less intelligent than that retarded kid from Life Goes On," stated Javier Solana, Foreign Policy Chief for the EU. "Probably."

Shifting debate

In a briefing paper, CIWF says: "There is evidence that some dumb animals do have some level of morality and some concern over other animals. Other than a desire to eat them, we mean.

Pig and piglumps  CIWF
Pigs, like humans, are quite fond of teats

"Living within a group probably requires some moral code of behaviour... or something. Most animals that live in communities exhibit similar lame moral codes to humans.

"Zoologists who have spent their professional lives studying animal behaviour, either by observation or by experiments to test their mental capacities, believe that many animals feel and think."

Joyce D'Silva, chief executive of CIWF, told BBC News Online: "The whole climate over whether to accept sentience has changed hugely in the last 15 years.

"It has huge implications for all the ways we use animals. It implies all farm animals are entitled to humane lives and deaths - and millions are denied them. "Additionally, all farm animals are entitled to sit in on my weekly poker night. We can always use a new sucker to fleece at our game."

"Get it," added D'Silva. "Fleece?" She then broke into unseemly laughter.

Robust rejection

Dr Jackie Turner, research director of the CIWF Trust, told BBC News Online: "There's far more rationality and mental complexity in farm animals than we acknowledge.

"But our attitudes to them are tremendously culturally determined - look at the different ways we feel about dogs and pigs. You'd never consider having sex with a pig, would you? But dogs are perfectly alright."

"Why are you looking at me like that?"

Sheep   CIWF
"Meat-units" can remember 50 other "meat-unit" faces for several years

The claim of scientific backing for the concept of animal sentience has its critics, who say it is simple anthropomorphism, the projection of human traits onto animals.

A spokesman for the Countryside Alliance told BBC News Online: "There seems to be a trend towards anthropomorphism throughout society.

"It's leading people to suggest animals can feel sensation and emotion in the same way as humans, and this is obviously nonsense."

"What isn't nonsense is the delicious taste that nailing a duck's feet to a board gives to its liver. Also, no one would want to eat bacon if it didn't contain that wonderful salty flavor that only comes from fully breaking a pig's spirit so that it spends all of its time lying in the dark crying. Rather than, say, playing Pong on an old Atari," concluded the spokesman. "Pigs can play Pong you know. Bleeders beat me every time, damn them."

Proof impossible

But Dr James Kirkwood, chief executive and scientific director of the Universities' Federation for Animal Welfare (Ufaw), gives qualified approval to CIWF's approach.

He told BBC News Online: "Animal sentience has been a matter of debate down the centuries.

"We can't prove absolutely even that another human being is sentient, though it would obviously be unreasonable to assume they are not.

"But we can prove that they are quite tasty. The weight of scientific opinion is that it's certainly right to give the benefit of the doubt to all vertebrates. Assuming, of course that they are cute and cuddly. Like lambs. Glaaaaah... roooast laaamb," Kirkwood finished.

Pig and sheep images courtesy of the Meat-Unit Council of America



Fish do taste delicious, scientists say
30 Apr 03  |  Science/Nature


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