Quote of the week

As seductive as certain perspectives of international law may appear to those who disagree with the outcome of the interpretative exercise conducted by this Court in the contempt judgment, sight must not be lost of the proper place of international law, especially in respect of an application for rescission. The approach that my Brother adopts may be apposite in the context of an appeal, where a court is enjoined to consider whether the court a quo erred in its interpretation of the law. Although it should be clear by now, I shall repeat it once more: this is not an appeal, for this Court’s orders are not appealable. I am deeply concerned that seeking to rely on articles of the ICCPR as a basis for rescission constitutes nothing more than sophistry.

Khampepe J
Zuma v Secretary of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector Including Organs of State and Others (CCT 52/21) [2021] ZACC 28 (17 September 2021)
17 August 2009

Animal cruelty and ethical double standards

Don’t get me wrong: Like many other South Africans I love animals. Cats and dogs can be good pets (loving and loyal – especially around meal times), while a tender piece of steak (cut from the carcas of a dead calf and then lightly browned in a pan and served with mushrooms) can be extremely delicious.

Yet, I find it absurd that former North West agriculture MEC Jan Serfontein is facing nine charges under the Animal Protection Act. They stand accused of dumping tens of thousands of male chicks in an empty farm dam and leaving them to die every week, because they were “economically worthless”.

This move seems to me to reflect the extreme double standard our society have towards animals. We are allowed to murder animals, then cook and eat them, but it is a criminal offense to have sex with an animal or to mistreat an animal. Yet, on farms where animals are raised for consumption, such animals are often subjected to extremely cruel treatment. Let’s face it, its a good thing that a chicken is not a very bright animal because chickens are often treated appalingly in order to fatten them up quickly for slaughter or in order to extract the maximum amount of eggs from them.

Yet, the law does not seem to address this kind of cruelty. As long as the animal is mistreated with the aim of later slaughtering it and selling it as meat, everything is hunky dory. But as soon as one mistreats an animal not with the aim of later murderinga nd eating it, then it suddenly becomes animal cruelty.

I suspect the reason for this double standard has much to do with the fact that as a society we do not want to take ethical responsibility for the fact that we are generally not vegetarians and therefore like to eat meat. And as we do not have to see how animals are mistreated while being prepared for the table, we can happily coo about cute furry animals and we can get outraged by the mistreatment of pets or even chickens, goats and sheep, while buying our plastic wrapped dead animals at the supermarket.

Mr Serfontein’s mistake was that he decided for good commercial reasons that it was more profitable to kill the little chickens than to mistreat them for several weaks before slaughtering them and packaging them for sale in the Pick & Pay, where the same animal lovers who would be outraged by his actions would happily buy the dead chickens for their braai.

One solution is to criminalise the cruel treatment of all animals – even those we will eat later – or to prohibit humans from eating meat. But that will never happen because we love our meat almost as much as we love our alcohol. So we do the next best thing: we adopt animal cruelty laws that will be selectively enforced to make us feel better about ourselves without forcing us to make the difficult choices required to live an ethical life regarding animals.

It really does not make sense. It’s a bit like prosecuting Schabir Shaik for arms deal corruption, but then not to prosecute all the other crooks who benefited from the arms deal or paid the bribes to secure arms deal contracts. It demonstrates the inability of us humans to act consistently ethically.

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