BY STEVEN DRUKER
The following essay was published by the Des Moines Register inthe Opinion section in both its print and online editions on January 17,2006, with the heading: "Do Hog Confinements Pollute the Spirit?" On theheadline page of the online Opinion section, the editors introduced it withthe words: "Evenwith all the environmental pollution they cause, the most damning argumentagainst large hog confinements is the way the animals are treated. Ponder this:How would Jesus farm?" (Copyright 2006 Steven M. Druker )
Amid all the controversy about high-density hog confinements,one key point has been largely ignored: that no matter how foul their dischargeinto our waters or how vile their stench in the nostrils of neighbors, theirmost severe form of pollution is spiritual.
They blight the soul of any society that supports them because they flagrantlyviolate fundamental ethical principles, principles that did not spring fromthe minds of animal-welfare activists but that are firmly embedded withinthe Bible.
While the Bible proclaims human dominion over animals and recognizesour rights to harness their strength and consume their flesh, these rightsare clearly conditioned on treating them kindly. Not only does the Bibleforbid causing animals unnecessary pain, it repeatedly instructs us toconsider their needs and uphold their welfare.
For instance, Deuteronomy 22:10 prohibits yoking an ox with a donkey.Commentators recognize this rule aims to prevent suffering, because thesmaller, weaker donkey will be strained through linkage with the ox. Deuteronomy25:4 bans another form of unkindness by declaring, "You shall notmuzzle the ox when he treads out the grain." While the former rulerespects the distinct natures of animals, this one protects their naturaldesires from being unfairly frustrated, even if it would be more cost-effectiveto do so.
Through these examples, the Bible teaches that besides refraining fromunnecessary physical force, we must also avoid subjecting animals to lessblatant forms of distress, psychological as well as physical. Moreover,in Exodus 23:5, the Bible imposes a duty to alleviate an animal’ssuffering when we encounter it, even if we in no way caused the predicament.
Although the Bible also contains rules about animals that pertain specificallyto the Jewish people, those that command kindness toward them expressuniversal principles and extend to humankind. By urging the Jews to upholdthe laws of the Torah, Jesus endorsed these rules of compassion; and there’sno indication his disciples ever questioned their validity for gentiles.
From a biblical perspective, hogs crammed into industrial confinementsare being unconscionably abused. These creatures are as intelligent andsensitive as dogs, yet they are condemned to incessant misery in conditionsthat deny their needs and thwart their natures. For instance, the sowsare constrained in iron cages so tight they cannot turn around, and canbarely move. In their futile struggle to do so, they incur continual stress,and often broken legs and lesions as well.
Overall, the treatment is so cruel that Matthew Scully, former deputydirector of presidential speech-writing for George W. Bush, has declared: “Devilscharged with designing a farm could hardly have made it more severe.”
Every legislator and citizen who has condoned these farms should askhim or herself what if the next time officials from the Department ofNatural Resources inspected one, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Jesus walked besidethem? Even if the state inspectors found no infraction of earthly laws,it’s folly to think the heavenly inspectors would be pleased. Theharshest protests of environmentalists would seem mild alongside the scathingrebuke that would be hurled at all who have perpetrated or facilitatedsuch an abomination.
High-density hog confinements stink to high heaven—and it’shigh time those who seek to serve the Lord on Earth woke up and did somethingabout it.
Until Iowa, Illinois, and other states that promote this continuous crueltyimpose a ban on new confinements and implement a concrete plan for dismantlingthose already in operation, they will remain guilty of gross hypocrisy,professing to honor the Bible while fostering widespread desecration ofsome of its basic ethical principles.
Steven M. Druker is an attorney who lives in Fairfield.