Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


Prey and Predator, Predator and Prey

November 2, 2013 James McWilliams

I’m currently researching a piece on wolves. I’m often late to the show on these things, but it occurred to me today as I interviewed a conservation biologist how fine and shifting the line can be between predator and prey.

Wolves once existed in an ecological matrix in which they were both predator and prey. But, as a result, they were, in light of their duel role, considered by humans to be neither. And both. The distinction didn’t matter, because we had no direct stake in it.  It happened beyond our purview.

Then, with the introduction of livestock to the West, our purview became a crosshair. Wolves were suddenly deemed predators. And, in turn, they also became prey. Human blindness to the distinction was ended and, in our lost innocence, the matrix was reduced to black and white. Cows: good. Wolves: bad.

This is what happens when one species owns another. Fundamental categories shift. Nature ends. And not just for non-humans. But for humans, too. Think about anyone who owns an animal for the purposes of profit. They’ll go on and on about how they care so deeply for their animal (I mean, just look at the dingbat veterinarians who have chimed in on my Forbes pieces!) and then they’ll lord over that animal’s slaughter with terrifying requiems of adoration.

But that’s only the beginning of it. While the animal is alive, while the owner is treating the animal to such an enriched and meaningful life, the owner, because animal ownership (“husbandry”) is his livelihood, the source of his lucre, will deem any critter that so much as sniffs the ass of his beasts to be predators. And then they become prey. Not, of course, to the genetically enslaved farm creatures under his care, but, alas, to him. The armed owner. He shoots to kill.

This is the world we support when we eat animals that were once owned by another human.

Comment #1: The number of livestock attacked by wolves per year is minimal. And animal organizations come to talk to farmers to show how to reduce wolves on their property. The killing of wolves (a massacre these past 2 years across multiple states) is mainly due to killing as a fun past-time, the joy of the kill. And then, a wolf pelt brings big money $. Most importantly, the stereotype of “the big bad wolf” lives on. So kill.

#2: Don’t forget how many wolves are killed by government, on behalf of ranchers. At the very least, we shouldn’t be subsidizing the killing of wolves.

The Animal Health Industry

December 11th, 2014 James McWilliams

When you think of the pharmaceutical industry, animal agriculture is likely not the first thing that comes to mind. But, in a telling reminder of how intricate the web of agribusiness can be, a recent report claims that the global animal health market is a multi billion dollar industry. With China on the verge of sending rates of meat consumption through the roof, it’s also one that has every intention of rapidly expanding in the near future.  The reason for the industry’s existence, in short, is animal agriculture (with a boost coming from companion animals).

Critical to the industry’s success are vaccines, medicated feed, and a variety of reproductive and respiratory drugs. Critics of industrial agriculture are correct to lament the connection between drugs and CAFOs. But it’s also important to remember that animals raised in smaller settings also require frequent medication for basic ailments. In my forthcoming book, The Modern Savage (which you can pre-order), I detail the extent to which small farmers rely on the animal health industry to medicate their livestock.  As long as we eat animals raised for food, and as long as animals get colds and ticks and fleas, we’ll have a sector of the pharmaceutical industry that thrives on that appetite.

The world’s top animal health firms are: Zoetis (formerly Pfizer), Merck, Merial, Eli Lilly, Bayer, Boehringer, and Novartis. They are enjoying a growth rate of about 5 percent a year. One common corporate strategy is to leverage human drugs for the animal market. And, from a corporate perspective, why not? There are only 7 billion humans, but 100 billion or so farm animals. That’s a lot more flesh and bones to keep medicated.

Concerned consumers have many reasons for not wanting to support this industry. Not only are millions of animals subjected to brutal tests in order to create these drugs, but the impact of these drugs on global ecosystems is substantial. These drugs enter the environment through excrement, urine, and direct disposal.  The State of Washington notes how it can all come back to us: “Landfill leachate can contain trace amounts of pharmaceuticals as well.  Often this leachate is sent to the same wastewater treatment systems that receive residential wastewater.”

The takeaway here is this: Our choice to raise billions of animals for food requires more than land, air, and water–all of which is bad enough. So much more is hidden from us. When we eat animals we often fail to understand the how broadly the ripple effects extend. Growing plants is hardly a chemically harmless endeavor, but it’s nothing like animal ag, where every hour is pharmaceutical cocktail hour.

Read more: James McWilliams