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JM Coetzee Addresses the Lives of Factory Animals

In an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, public vegetarian JM Coetzee addresses the increasingly distorted relationship between humans and animals as evident in the phenomenon of factory farming.

DisgraceElizabeth CostelloThe Lives of AnimalsAccording to Coetzee, while the “transformation of animals into production units dates back to the late 19th century”, factory farming is a fairly new development in the history of animal husbandry.

Coetzee argues that “there is something deeply, even cosmically wrong, about using industrial methods to kill fellow creatures on an industrial scale”. He asks us to question metaphors that liken the mistreatment of human beings to what we consider the “normal” treatment of cattle (think Nazi Germany), as though it is not horrific that we treat cattle as we do cattle. Coetzee is no stranger to the world of animal rights. He is a patron of the “animal protection institute”, Voiceless, based in Paddington, Australia, and has written widely on the topic in both fiction and non-fiction works.

While the photograph of encaged pigs the SMH has attached to the piece moves it into the arena of polemic, Coetzee is more tempered in his approach:

Something has gone badly wrong in relations between human beings and other animals, and it is not just animal welfare and animal rights organisations that say so. Large swathes of the public are troubled too.

Even people who take their lead from Genesis, from its assurance that God has granted us dominion over the beasts in order to feed ourselves, suffer nagging doubts whether factory farming and a food industry operating on an industrial scale to turn living animals into what are euphemistically called ”animal products”, are quite what God had in mind.

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Photo courtesy Empty Kingdom


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