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Portrait of militant activist Jean-Marc Montegnies
Jean-Marc Montegnies

Militant activist for animal causes
Chairperson of the association “Animaux en péril”

Seven billion other… guilty parties

There are some questions that are never (or almost never) raised when people speak about ecology and about protecting animals. Questions that are not raised because they lie at the root of all problems, because they are fundamental mistakes that no-one wants to deal with, because they call into question the right of humans to exist in such large numbers within the fragile living fabric.

The Earth is now home to over seven billion individuals living in radically different contexts, often suffering from shortages or, more rarely, from excess. All of them (or almost all of them) have this much in common: the abusive use of their environment. To a certain degree, all of them (or almost all of them) practise the management of natural resources, but they are singularly blind to the need for self-management as a species amongst so many other forms of terrestrial life.

Where animal protection is concerned, there are multiple consequences: firstly, for wild creatures that are threatened by hunting, capture, plain and simple destruction, and by the fragmentation of habitats, which are depleted year on year; next, for creatures that we, with no moderation or wisdom, cause to reproduce, so-called food-producing species that have become an immense caste of untouchables that increases the eco-footprint of humans on Earth.

The proliferation of one species to the detriment of others in a given setting is an imbalance. When that disproportion spreads planet-wide, it becomes a catastrophe. Humans are invading the world, and dragging satellite species along behind them: farm animals. Together, they form a multitude that consumes and locks in an ever-greater proportion of living organic matter available in finite quantities around our globe. That tribute is levied to the detriment of natural habitats, their stability, and their interactions.

For their part, satellite species are henceforth a problem in their own right – firstly, due to their over-population, which matches that of humans. Each year and around the world, over 60 billion animals are killed for our consumption, without taking marine fauna into account. More than half of them live their wretched lives in intensive factory-farming conditions. The cost in ecological terms is overwhelming, whether that is because of pollution, or because of deforestation aimed at guaranteeing a greater area for pastureland or fodder.

However, well ahead of being the involuntary causes of ecological plagues, animals caught up in the system are, first and foremost, martyrs, from birth to death. Genocide takes place away from the world so as not to shock consumers, those accomplices who simply do not want to know. In that way, it hides its basic truth: horror and violence are not the exception but the rule. They form the collateral damage arising from best yield at lowest cost, which lies at the heart of forced production. Industrial farming is a holocaust aggravated by systematic torture of its raw materials.

Recapitulating the abuses committed by that industry fills books, so the list that follows is not exhaustive. Let us mention amputations inflicted upon animals so that they do not kill each other in over-populated factory farms (beak-cutting in hens, tail removal and teeth extraction in pigs – all done without anæsthesia); mutilations that guarantee an attractive product (piglets that are castrated raw to preserve the flavour of their meat); deprivations causing deficiencies (anæmic veal calves for whiter meat); over-consumption of antibiotics; being crushed into tiny containers (hens piled up in tiny cages, up to 40,000 chickens packed into a shed, sows constrained in metal enclosures, veal calves immobilised so that no muscle development spoils the tenderness of the meat).

There is also the matter of extermination (crushing or gassing male chicks, because they are of no use to the egg-laying industry); deformations and pathologies (fractures due to immobility and to the poor development of bones and muscle, ulcers, malformations, infections, wounds, skin diseases, failing organs); lethal discomfort (confined and suffocating atmospheres, a lack of vital space, biorhythms compromised by permanent lighting or darkness, frustrated behavioural impulses); genetic selection (causing body hypertrophy or the development of a specific character trait to the detriment of the organism); terror; pain; stress of such intensity that it sometimes leads to death; and, finally, direct violence exerted by stockbreeders, whether as blows, brusque handling, or practices like force-feeding.
What is worse, given our numbers on Earth, those methods are inevitable if we continue to devour meat at that rate. Quite simply, there is no right answer to such a frenetic level of demand, and there is no way of producing on an ecologically-sustainable basis for a swiftly-increasing population that clamours for ever more meat at low prices. Moreover, people who feel that they belong to an aware elite which practises “fair consumption” in a way that respects animals have discovered with horror the images of slaughterhouses filmed with hidden cameras by the French association L214. Those images reveal brutality that is just as extreme as in traditional sectors.

Given the profits at stake, it is vain to await salutary political decisions aimed at eliminating meat, or at least at drastically curtailing its consumption. As consumers, each of us thus has the duty to take up the reins, to free ourselves, and to evolve so that personal discipline accomplishes what the rules of the market no longer allow us to have: a move towards a food supply that does not destroy the environment and animals. Give up the (childish and humiliating) idea that you have the right not to deny yourself anything. Be vegan, be vegetarian, or lower your meat consumption if you cannot give it up completely. Like the planet, your body is not made for such an orgy of flesh.

Eat less, reproduce less, demand less, minimise the significance of human appetites and desires: those are essential steps for relieving planet-wide carnage. However, speeches about moderation and a measured approach do not have much support: homœostasis maintains natural ecosystems and their balance, but humans, in their excess, feel that they can be free of rules and give free rein to all their impulses.

Mistakes made in founding our societies are passed on to higher levels. A humanity undergoing uncontrolled development and that, in the name of gluttony, is capable of sacrificing billions of beings every year is a humanity that is aggressive, selfish, indifferent to its neighbours, dishonest, insecure – and, ultimately, unmanageable. If we do not work on the deep causes, we shall, on a daily basis, be our own executioners and the executioners of other species. Our world will be more disordered, incoherent, and odious.

Violence is never isolated. By massacring animals and the living world, we have put in place the terms of our own destruction. It is a shame that we are dragging along towards our own World of Shadows those billions of Others, pounded without hope into the huge funnel under which, open-mouthed, sits the modern consumer.

Jean-Marc Montegnies