Sparrow Talks with Peter Singer
Peter Singer interviewed by Sparrow
Green World Center, ca. 1999

Sparrow: You don't want anybody to eat meat?

Peter Singer: I don't want anyone who has a choice, a genuine choice of foods, and could live on an adequate diet without eating meat, to eat meat.

Sparrow: Uh, is that realistic?

Peter Singer: Why, it depends what you mean by realistic. It's not going to happen overnight, but I don't see why it shouldn't happen in the long run. I mean, was it realistic so say you're against slavery if you were living in South Carolina in, lets say 1800? A lot of people would have thought that was pretty crazy.

Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation

Sparrow: You say it's all right to have a partnership with a horse. Well, suppose you have a partnership with a cow. Just because it's going to wind up as meat doesn't necessarily mean it's had an unhappy life. I've seen cows and cattle in the country, and they didn't look unhappy to me.

Peter Singer: Well, what you probably don't realize is that the cows that you see in the country, if we're talking about dairy cows for example- they have been made pregnant every year, or every 18 months, and once their baby calf is just a few days old, or at most a few weeks, it will be taken away from them; because that milk was intended for the calf, and in order to have the milk to sell they have to take the calf away, and if they didn't make the cow pregnant from time to time, the milk would dry up. So even in that, which might be seen as relatively benign compared to the way we treat many other animals, even there, there is the pain of separation of the cow from her calf, which is a very close bond, and you can hear the cows bellowing for their calves for days after the calves are taken away.

Sparrow: They take the calves away from the cows?

Peter Singer: Right. They take the calves away from the cows so that they can have the milk to sell rather than to be drunk by the calf. If you didn't do that you wouldn't have much milk.

Sparrow: Is this a standard procedure?

Peter Singer: Right. It's absolutely standard procedure. Every dairy farm is going to make the cows pregnant periodically, and take the calves away.

Sparrow McLeod - Democracy is Coming to the USA

Sparrow: Is that true of other animals--animals that are raised for meat?

Peter Singer: Well, animals that are raised for meat will have all sorts of pain and suffering throughout their lives, depending what kind of animals we're talking about.

Mother pigs are kept for nearly all of their lives in little boxes so small they can't turn around. And pigs are intelligent, playful animals. For the few weeks when she has her piglets with her, she will be pinned down in such a way that they can get to her nipples and feed, but she can't get to them, or even stand up. The piglets will be taken away from them at a very early age, so the sows can be made pregnant again, because the whole point of a sow, for a breeder, is to be pregnant, or to give birth, and if she's not pregnant or giving birth, she's not making that production unit money. So it's all scheduled as quickly as possible, to get her to have as many litters as she can, before eventually she's led off and killed.

Sparrow: So the mothers and the babies are separated?? I didn't know that. Jesus. Is that true of other animals?

Peter Singer: Well... with chickens, hens who lay eggs, they're kept indoors in sheds really for their entire lives. They're very crowded in the sheds, and because the flocks are so large -there might be five or ten thousand birds in one shed- the chickens are constantly stressed because they run into strangers, and they don't know what their place is in the pecking order. In a normal farmyard flock of 30 or 40 or 50 birds, they will learn their place in the pecking order, they will recognize each of the other birds as individuals, and they'll know either that's a bird that they're above or that's a bird that they're below, but when there are so many birds they can't do that, so there's a lot of stress and a lot of aggression, and if the birds were left intact they would peck at each other and often kill each other. But because the farmers don't want them to kill each other they cut off their beaks. This is what's called de-beaking, or now the PR people call it "beak trimming," which sounds a bit better, but essentially what it is is, you take a hot blade, a hot knife, a little guillotine-like device, and you cut through the beak, including the sensitive nerve tissue in the beak-because the beak is basically the most sensitive organ the chicken has; it's the way the chicken contacts the outside world, and it's full of nerves which get cut through and cauterized, and there's prolonged pain from that operation -not just the moment the knife cuts, but it's been shown that there's pain for a long time afterwards, and the effect of it is that though the birds are still stressed, and still peck each other, they can't kill each other, because they don't have a sharp point to their beak anymore.

Sparrow: They don't use anaesthetics?

Peter Singer: No, they don't use any anaesthetics at all. They do it when they're chicks; they do it very quickly. They just grab the chicks one after another, they shove their beaks in the little machine, the knife cuts down on it, and they throw them down again, and the little chicks just stumble around in pain not knowing what's happened to them.

Sparrow McLeod, protagonistof Democracy is Coming to the USA

Sparrow: Isn't it just like cutting your nails?

Peter Singer: It's nothng like cutting your nails, because there's no nerves in your nails. It's more like cutting both your nail and the sensitive part of the quick underneath the nail, which is full of nerves. You could compare it to that perhaps.

Sparrow: That's sick.

Peter Singer: Well that's just a standard part of every egg production.


Utilitarian Philosophers :: Peter Singer :: 'Sparrow Talks with Peter Singer', interview with Sparrow